Planned Parenthood: Giving more to society than controversy

Women are peculiarly vulnerable when it comes to personal health and healthcare, facing the potential for breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers as well as the common maladies (heart disease, diabetes, etc) the male portion of the population shares with us.

Living in a first-world country such as the United States of America provides a definite set of positives for healthcare – medicines are available, manufactured under strictly regulated guidelines and prescriptions or medical regimens are overseen by carefully trained physicians.  Unfortunately it’s also a strictly finite set of positives, which is growing smaller with every PPO plan dropped from insurance providers due to “costs”[3], a delicate economic situation making taking days off for medical purposes fraught with repercussions, and preventative care being deemed ever more second-place to urgent care, partially due to the associated costs[4].

In their 2012-2013 report, Planned Parenthood diagnosed 160,000 STIs, 700,000 HIV tests, and combined for 4,470,000 STI tests and treatments [1].  One million persons participated in education programs, learning to prevent STIs and when testing would be necessary for the sake of their health and safety.  Further, their entire 2012-2013 budget broke down into the following categories:

41% STI/STD testing and treatment
10% Cancer screening and prevention
11% Womens’ Health Services
3% Abortions
1% Other Services
34% Contraception [1]

It should be noted that the “other services” include “comprehensive family practice services” (not available at all Planned Parenthood health centers) which includes treatment of either acute or chronic diseases, minor in-office procedures, referrals, evaluations and health assessments, and preventative maintenance.  Some Planned Parenthood centers also include WIC services (a federal nutrition program for low-income women and their children up to five years of age), pediatric care and immunizations [1].  

Removing Planned Parenthood from the healthcare equation could have disastrous consequences for the low-income family.  The most immediate consequence – an increase in birthrate – has already hit Texas [5] after the state cut ties with Medicaid and started the Texas Women’s Health Program, which could legally withhold funding from any clinic “affiliated with an abortion provider” which exclusively affected Planned Parenthood.  Only 23 of Texas’ 254 counties had a Planned Parenthood before 2013, but they still served 60% of the state’s low-income women of childbearing age, who have now lost access to low-cost birth control, affordable STD testing, and affordable cancer screenings [5].

A study found that over the 18 months after the mass closings of Planned Parenthoods, the proportion of low-income women who had used hormone injections as birth control who gave birth to a child rose from 7% to 8.4% in counties that had lost a Planned Parenthood center, and in counties without a center, the proportion of women under the same circumstances (had used hormone injections; later became pregnant) fell from 6.4% to 5.9%.  That study found that the relative increase in births for women who lost access to Planned Parenthood was a staggering 27%, and assumes that these births were unplanned since the increase was only seen in counties where women had to find new access to contraception [5].

According to the National Women’s Law Center, while states may expand eligibility for their Medicaid programs to provide health coverage for their low-income citizens, twenty-five states have not done so, leaving over three million women in the “coverage gap” [6].  This gap applies to individuals with incomes below the federal poverty level (approximately $11,500 for an individual, although it should be noted this can vary sharply between states and cities with high costs of living) who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid [6].  The NWLC conducted a study and showed a significant disparity of medical care between low-income women with and without health insurance; 57.5% of women without insurance needed to see a doctor but couldn’t because of cost compared to 22.5% of women with insurance.  Only 51.9% of uninsured women had a healthcare provider while 87.6% of insured women did, and only 62.4% of uninsured women had a healthcare checkup in the past two years, while 87.9% of insured women had been checked in the same time period [6].  In 2012 alone Planned Parenthood centers saw approximately three million patients in nearly five million clinical visits for a total of 11 million services provided [1].  Why can we not expand Planned Parenthood, with their ease of access and sliding scales for fees, to cover this gap of millions of uninsured, low-income women (and men!) so that they can live healthy, productive lives without going bankrupt?

Studies have shown that low-income uninsured women are more likely to go without care because of the expense, are less likely to have regular access or resources for care, and utilize preventive services at a lower rate than women in the same income bracket who have insurance.  These women have very little available to them in the way of affordable health coverage that they need to get and stay healthy, so they can be productive members of society.  Planned Parenthood would fill this gap if only they were allowed to do so.  As a graduate student who works two jobs and takes classes full-time, there was a nine-month gap where my health insurance lapsed after I lost my job when oil collapsed.  I was lucky enough to have the University’s clinic to attend; without it, I would have had to go to Planned Parenthood for my yearly screening and any other healthcare, as I simply could not have afforded an urgent care or walk-in clinic without insurance.  If I can lose my insurance, anyone can.  If I, with loans and jobs and supportive parents, couldn’t afford to get ill, a single woman from a low-income background with fewer degrees certainly couldn’t afford it either.  The Constitution promises all her citizens the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Could we perhaps at least grant the “life” portion of that to our low-income Americans and allow Planned Parenthood to keep screening, testing, prescribing medicines and providing essential services?

—by CEP

 

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/7413/9620/1089/AR-FY13_111213_vF_rev3_ISSUU.pdf

[2] http://www.politico.com/story/2011/02/groups-unite-vs-planned-parenthood-048651

[3] http://bizbeatblog.dallasnews.com/2015/07/bluecross-blueshield-of-texas-to-drop-individual-ppo-plans-in-2016.html/

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-preventive-economics-idUSBRE90S05M20130129

[5] http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-planned-parenthood-texas-births-20160203-story.html

[6] http://nwlc.org/resources/mind-gap-low-income-women-dire-need-health-insurance-report-summary/

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