PAP SMEARS: Insurers Slow To Cover More Accurate Methods
A "new generation of tests and technologies" could aid in evaluating the 60 million Pap smears done each year in the United States, but the techniques are "unknown by women and unused by their doctors" because insurers do not cover most of them. The AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that scientists have logged "major advances in cervical cancer research" in the last five to 10 years. Until that point, there had been little change since the Pap smear was developed by Dr. George Papanicolaou in 1948. The Pap smear, thought to cut the number of cancer deaths by 70%, is one of the "most respected and successful disease-fighting tools in history." Dr. Thomas Cox, who writes the guidelines for the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, said the test is "like a sacred cow."
Three years ago, Suffern, NY-based Neuromedical Systems Inc. received FDA approval for PapNet, a computer system proven to read Paps more accurately than human screeners. Nevertheless, the company has been unable to convince insurers to reimburse labs for using the system. Insurers say the new ways are "more expensive than traditional Pap smears" and that funds would be better spent educating women to receive regular gynecological exams. According to the AP/Times- Dispatch, half of the 15,700 U.S. women diagnosed with cervical cancer annually have "never had a Pap smear." However, "all sides agree the conventional way of reading a Pap smear is on the verge of replacement" (5/26).