Letters: Mammograms, Health Care, Armstrong

Listeners respond to the interview on new recommendations on mammograms, the story on the Senate version of the health care bill and the remembrance of civil rights leader James Armstrong. Melissa Block and Michele Norris read from listeners' e-mails.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And it's time now for your letters. Following last week's news that the guidelines for mammograms and breast exams had changed, we spoke with two doctors who have different views on the topic. That conversation generated great interest from our listeners.

Peter McLean(ph) from Norwalk, Connecticut, was frustrated by the discussion. He writes: Despite the questions asked by the host, the two MDs proceeded to focus on the statistical issues, losing sight of the fact that their patients are human beings, not a perfect, bell-shaped curve. While self-examination for women may not be perfect, there are surely cases where an individual has discovered an issue on a timely basis. What the MDs seem to forget is that to change the world, you only have to save one life.

BLOCK: And Googer(ph) of Tacoma, Washington, agrees with the new guidelines, and she writes: I had a dear friend die far too young from breast cancer, and I am saddened by the many lives cut short by this disease. While it is just one among many diseases, it seems to garner more money and attention than all others combined. I become increasingly disturbed every time I see a new product for the cure, from pink Tic-Tacs to garden forks with bright pink tines. How can one justify performing a screening test that has been proven largely ineffective when so many cases of TB or water-borne illnesses could be treated by the savings from a single, unnecessary mammogram, but those cures, cheap and available, are not wrapped in pretty, pink packages.

NORRIS: And our story previewing the Senate health care vote over the weekend prompted Dr. Madeline Weiss(ph) of Berkeley, California, to write: I heard your story on the difficulty the Senate Democratic leadership has been having, rounding up 60 votes to support health care reform due to the cost.

Much as I support health care reform, I'm very frustrated that the current Senate legislation will do very little to control health care costs because it doesn't address the very inefficient, fee-for-service health care delivery system we have in the U.S. The best way to control those costs is to support integrated systems of care, such as the one I work in, in Kaiser Permanente. Because all physicians in our group are salaried, we have no incentives to over treat patients.

BLOCK: And finally, a note of thanks from Bill Charles(ph), writing from Saltville, Virginia, for our remembrance of James Armstrong. He carried the flag along the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday during the civil rights movement.

He writes: My wife and I met him briefly years ago at the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, on a Martin Luther King Day. I was reading of the suit brought by African-Americans against the then-segregated Birmingham schools and saw his name in the text of the display. Then I noticed a distinguished gentleman whose name tag identified him as James Armstrong standing nearby. I asked him if it was he whose story I read, and so it was.

All the others who brought the lawsuit lost their jobs or had to move. Because of his self-employed status as a barber, he alone could see the suit through. I knew I was conversing with a truly humble and important person.

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