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PSA Screening Controversy: FAQ

What the USPSTF Prostate Cancer Screening Recommendations Mean for Men

Isn't it better to find and treat prostate cancer early? continued...

Otis Brawley, MD, chief science officer of the American Cancer Society: "It is very well accepted that 40% to 60% of localized prostate cancers that we cure are in men who did not need to be cured."

Barnett S. Kramer, MD, MPH, director of the office of disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health: "Unfortunately right now we are left with diagnosing a large number of people without precise enough knowledge to spare those who don't need to be treated from treatment."

But a healthy man who is told he has cancer no longer feels like a healthy man. In the U.S., most such men will seek treatment.

What does the USPSTF recommendation against PSA screening mean?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent agency. It's made up of experts in preventive or family medicine who serve a four-year term on the panel.

Their recommendations are made for primary-care doctors. Many doctor groups that establish guidelines for patient care use the USPSTF recommendations. Agencies that fund health care -- Medicare and private insurers -- often set their policies based on USPSTF recommendations.

Health care reform -- the Affordable Care Act -- will require Medicare and insurance plans to cover preventive services recommended by the USPSTF. However, they may choose to cover preventive services not recommended by the USPSTF.

Will Medicare still cover PSA tests?

Because the USPSTF did not recommend PSA screening -- in fact, the panel recommended against it -- Medicare is not forced to pay for the screening tests.

That's up to the Department of Health and Human Services. And this week, after the USPSTF report came out, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Medicare would continue to pay for PSA screening for men who want it.

Will private insurance still cover PSA tests?

No private insurer was required to cover PSA screening before the USPSTF recommendation.

Even under the Affordable Care Act, private insurers will not be required to cover PSA testing. Whether they will continue to cover it remains a question.

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