I got a nice letter from former Olympic skating champ Peggy Fleming last week.
She reminded me that she is a breast cancer survivor and that's why she believes in health screenings - although the tests she was writing about had nothing to do with breast cancer but with vascular disease (or an add-on for osteoporosis if I wanted - which I don't since I'm a man and not at high risk).
Peggy's note to me was, of course, an ad - an ad for the Life Line Screening company. And for the St. Paul Corner Drug store near me that is sponsoring upcoming screenings. All good for business. But potentially bad for consumers.
The "package of four painless stroke, vascular disease and heart rhythm screenings" - costing only $149 - are not recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force - the gold standard in this country for preventive health recommendations.
For one of the four tests - abdominal aortic aneurysm screening - the USPSTF recommends only one-time screening in men ages 65-75 who have ever smoked. It makes no recommendation for nonsmokers. And it recommends against such screening in women.
For two of the other tests - carotid artery screening and peripheral arterial disease screening - the USPSTF recommends against screening in the general adult population.
For the fourth test - an EKG - the USPSTF recommends against routine screening in adults at low risk. And since Peggy and Life Line don't know my risk, she and they are skating on thin ice.
The Q&A flyer that accompanied Peggy's letter led with this:
Q: Who needs to be screened?
A: Anyone over 50 who wants to be proactive about his or her health.
The flyer also says "Unfortunately Medicare and insurance companies typically will not cover these stroke and vascular screenings without the presence of symptoms. This is is unfortunate since there are often no symptoms for the diseases for which we screen."
Don't make out Medicare and insurance companies as the villains here. They don't cover these tests because the leading evidence-based body in this country says there isn't evidence to support them.
Buyer beware. The story of these "low-cost, painless" screenings is a lot more complicated than it may look at first glance.
So, Peggy, I won't be going to the free screening. If it's a nice early Spring day, I may go for a walk. And if it isn't Spring here yet by then, maybe I'll take you for a spin on the local ice rink. Rather than you spinning the screening story on me.