Those Greatest in Need Have the Most at Stake

05/08/2017 05:08 pm ET

Last Thursday, the House took action that undermines access to health care for millions of families with the greatest need. While opponents made clear their intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act, those who also oppose family planning and abortion seized the opportunity to use this legislative vehicle as a means to advance a proposal to “defund” Planned Parenthood - the largest provider of family planning services, many of whose affiliates are members of the association I lead. This myopic policy would cripple the family planning safety net that supports our nation’s most vulnerable population – the poor, low-income, uninsured, and underinsured - by banning Planned Parenthood centers from receiving reimbursements for providing Medicaid services for one year.

Let’s be clear on what “defunding” really means and who is truly harmed by it.

Many Planned Parenthood patients have incomes of less than $18,000 – that’s below 150% of the federal poverty level. They rely on their trusted providers for preventive health services and prescriptions that are free or low-cost to them, thanks to Medicaid and the Title X family planning program. By denying the essential role of these health centers as critical access points, this proposal would exact harm on those who are least able to afford health care by stripping them of a whole class of highly qualified providers.

Some have lost sight of whom they were sent to Congress to represent. Consider the new mom living paycheck to paycheck. She has a provider with whom she’s built strong trust, and now she wants counsel on a new method of birth control. It’s reprehensible that she would be told that her health insurance no longer allows coverage, and she’s forced to go elsewhere for care.

In many communities, there is no other care alternative for cancer screenings, STD treatment, clinical exams, and other preventive services.. In fact, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, in one in five counties across the country, Planned Parenthood is the ONLY available health center offering a full range of contraception and family planning services.

This damaging proposal would deal a devastating blow to other publicly funded family planning health centers, too. The nation’s only dedicated family planning program, Title X, has experienced dramatic and disproportionate funding cuts in recent years. Participating providers are already operating on extremely tight budgets and don’t have the resources to absorb additional patients.

One of the Title X program’s core attributes is the ability to establish a diverse network of health care providers that most effectively serves local communities across the country. It is that diversity that makes it a bedrock public health program, a proven solution that should not be tampered with.

We’ve already seen at the state level what’s in store if the federal effort succeeds, and the results are unequivocally disastrous for the public’s health. In 2011, Texas instituted drastic cuts to family planning and blocked Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving care at Planned Parenthood, which forced about a quarter of the state’s family planning centers to close. A New England Journal of Medicine study reveals that those cuts led to a 35% decline in women using the most effective methods of contraception and a 27% spike in unintended pregnancy.

New Jersey provides yet another dire reflection of the impact of these cuts. In 2010, the state slashed $7.5 million from its budget for family planning, leading to the closure of six family planning centers and 33,000 fewer patients being seen in the state. New Jersey has since seen a 5% increase in breast and cervical cancers and a 27% increase in chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

At a time when we are seeing an unprecedented demand for publicly-funded family planning care, it is unacceptable that an anti-family planning agenda is building. Lives are on the line. Barring people from seeking care at Planned Parenthood poses a threat to the health and well-being of the millions of poor and low-income women and men who rely on the safety net to stay healthy and plan for strong families. They deserve better – and so do we. The family planning safety net deserves policymakers who examine the data that show – year over year – the enormous public health contribution that access to contraception makes, and then champion the work we do every day to ensure high-quality family planning care for all.

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