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Women’s Health Bills Approved by Committee

The House Energy and Commerce easily approved, by voice vote, two bipartisan women’s health bills (H.R. 1784 and H.R. 4888) on June 13. Prior to approving each bill, the committee agreed, by voice vote, to substitute amendments making technical changes to the measures. Both bills were approved, by voice vote, by the Subcommittee on Health on June 11. In praising the measures, Health Subcommittee Chair Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) said that the bills were “important to patients” and they “will improve the health of all women.”

The Women’s Health Offices Act (H.R. 1784), sponsored by Reps. Connie Morella (R-MD) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would provide statutory authority for the federal women’s health offices. Currently, only two offices are established by statute—the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Associate Administrator for Women’s Services. While not established by statute, the Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have created offices on women’s health. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) have designated women’s health coordinators within their agencies.

H.R. 1784 would authorize offices at the PHS, CDC, FDA, and HRSA through FY2007. While the original bill also would have authorized an office at AHRQ, under the substitute amendment adopted by the committee, AHRQ would be authorized to designate a women’s health coordinator within the Office of Priority Populations.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) have sponsored the companion bill (S. 946).

During subcommittee action on June 11, a substitute amendment by Rep. Bilirakis was adopted by voice vote. The amendment made technical changes to the bill and clarified that the legislation would not create new functions for the office but rather would maintain current functions.

Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA) expressed support for the measure, saying he was pleased that Congress was addressing the issue of women’s health and “making it a more formal part of the federal government.”

The Mammography Quality Standards Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4888), sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), would reauthorize the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) for five years. MQSA was first enacted in 1992 to provide national standards for mammography equipment to ensure that all women received quality mammograms. Under current law, facilities providing screening and diagnostic mammography must undergo yearly inspections, and they must be recertified every three years. H.R. 4888 would allow facilities seeking reaccreditation to be issued a temporary 45-day accreditation extension.

In addition to reauthorizing MQSA, H.R. 4888 would require the General Accounting Office to conduct a study of the MQSA. The study would evaluate the frequency of inspections, the accessibility of mammography services, and the role of states in acting as accreditation and certification bodies and would identify areas that need to be improved.

The bill also would require the Institute of Medicine to study ways to encourage radiologists and other personnel to be adequately trained in mammography services, whether interventional mammography procedures should be covered under MQSA, ways to improve continuing medical education requirements, and other areas in MQSA that could be improved.

During subcommittee action, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) expressed her concern that the FDA was not issuing timely guidelines for accreditation of digital mammography. Noting that the FDA approved a digital mammography system several years ago, Rep. Capps said that it is still “expensive and not widely available.” Members of the committee agreed to include report language instructing the FDA to establish a timeline for issuing digital mammography standards.

Rep. Dingell gave his “enthusiastic support” for the bill, saying, “We have a breast cancer epidemic in this country.”

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