USPSTF needs overhaul, groups say

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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) desperately needs to restructure the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which more than a dozen organizations claim suffers from a lack of transparency and nonrepresentation of key medical specialties.

In a joint letter sent to AHRQ director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, the Access to Medical Imaging Coalition (AMIC) and 19 other medical associations and patient advocacy groups voiced concern that the USPSTF’s composition will negatively effect patients’ access to critical medical services.

“We are concerned about the lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity in the operation of the USPSTF, particularly given its expanded mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA),” stated Tim Trysla, executive director at AMIC.

“Given that USPSTF’s screening evaluations will directly affect coverage decisions by private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid, we are concerned that future USPSTF recommendations will mean reduced access to screenings and other services. The specific changes we are requesting are critical to protect patients’ access to life-saving preventive services.”

The USPSTF, which is notable for its controversial guidelines that only women older than 50 years need undergo breast screening every other year, must dramatically broaden its representative makeup, the letter insisted. The organizations recommended that AHRQ include representatives from specialty medical associations, patient groups and scientific societies.

The groups also called for the opening up of the USPSTF guidelines creation process to public comment and a requirement that the task force offer recommendations only if one of its members has demonstrated expertise in that specialty.