Massachusetts health care reform and Obamacare, in spite of all their positive contributions, cannot and have not addressed all of the flaws in our profit-based health care system. This is reflected in the alarming decline in the number of Berkshire residents getting cancer screenings, which though unexplained, is likely to be a result in large part of the cost of the tests.
Berkshire Medical Center reports declines in exams for skin cancer, in mammography tests and in colonoscopies (Eagle, Jan. 9) that mirror declines reported nationally by the American Cancer Society, and what is particularly worrisome is that the declines follow years of escalating tests and screenings by Americans. Some medical tests can be expensive, and while the industry has tried to tackle this problem in recent years success has been minimal. If health insurance policies are weak, patients can be left with out-of- pocket costs that can be prohibitive in a tough economy.
This must be measured, of course, against the high cost of treating cancer if it has gone undetected. Screenings for colon, breast and skin cancer indisputably save lives and reduce health care costs by reducing the number of costly cancer treatments. People may be confused about when and how often they should get tests, particularly in the case of mammography screenings, about which there is considerable debate among physicians, but information is available from primary care physicians and specialists in the Berkshires and the American Cancer Society website is also helpful.
The health care debate will probably always rage in our country but certain facts are indisputable, and one is that prevention is far less costly than treatment. Cancer not only costs lives but it can cost savings, paychecks and time spent undergoing lengthy and often difficult treatment procedures. A colonoscopy, the preparation especially, is seen as unpleasant but it beats the alternative if cancer goes undetected. Test costs must be reduced and insurance coverage improved, but screenings are still a bargain in many ways.