Barring federal funding for Planned Parenthood, as some in Congress favor, would have a devastating impact on women's access to health care services through Medicaid -- especially family planning services -- and put many women's health at risk.
Nearly 400,000 low-income women would lose access to care under the one-year funding prohibition that the House passed recently, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Moreover, by making it harder for women to get family planning services, defunding Planned Parenthood would raise state and federal Medicaid costs for unplanned pregnancies.
Medicaid is the largest funder of family planning services, and Planned Parenthood is a major provider of those services for low-income women. In over two-thirds of counties with a Planned Parenthood clinic, the clinics serve at least half of all women receiving publicly funded contraceptive services; in one-fifth of the counties, Planned Parenthood serves all such women. CBO found that women most likely to lose access to care under the House bill are those living in areas without other clinics serving low-income populations.
Community health centers couldn't fill the gap. "[A] claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do were Planned Parenthood to lose over 40 percent of its operating revenues overnight as the result of a ban on federal funding," explains George Washington University's Sara Rosenbaum, an expert on the centers.
Over half the states have expanded coverage for family planning services to women not otherwise eligible for Medicaid, usually through waivers. To encourage states to extend this coverage, the federal government pays 90 percent of Medicaid costs of family planning services in all states, well above the matching rate for other services, which averages 57 percent. The waivers have proven effective in avoiding the costs of unplanned pregnancies; California's program, for example, saved roughly $14,000 for each prevented pregnancy, totaling $4.08 billion in savings over five years. That's why Congress allowed states to extend family planning services without a waiver as part of health reform.
Eliminating federal funds for Planned Parenthood for even one year would undercut future savings from avoiding unplanned pregnancies, while depriving hundreds of thousands of low-income women of critical family planning and other women's health services.
This post originally appeared on Off the Charts, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' blog.