Last year, Texas legislature attempted to pass a bill that would halt all funding for the Women’s Health Program, a Medicaid associated program that provides annual exams and contraception for all reproductive age women that qualify, simply because Planned Parenthood participated in the Women’s Health Program. This puts programs such as where I work in a bind. The funding is in serious jeopardy of being eliminated completely.
According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Women’s Health Program saves Texas at least $20 million a year. By providing an annual exam, contraception, STD screening and cancer screening, patients also get their blood pressure checked, are screened for domestic violence and substance abuse and connected into a hospital system.
As a second year resident in my training in OB/GYN at one of the busiest county hospitals in the country, Parkland Hospital in Dallas, I’ve seen a lot. Parkland is a massive safety net for north Texas, catering to women of all races, creeds, nationalities and ages. Parkland Hospital takes care of over 10,000 pregnant women a year alone, at a cost much below the national average, yet manages to have excellent outcomes including one of the lowest pre-term birth rates in the country.
Parkland maximizes utilization of state programs that fund preventive care. The Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program allows uninsured women below a certain income level to qualify for annual well women exams and reproductive health maintenance. Outlying clinics staffed by nurse practitioners provide these vital services.
Beginning last year, under financial and political pressure, Governor Rick Perry attempted to cut funding to the Women’s Health Program because the Women’s Health Program also funded Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, although providing abortion services, focuses on “[helping people] make responsible choices about their sexual and reproductive health”. The main focus of Planned Parenthood in fact parallels Parkland’s ideals of health care by promoting prevention through screening and education. (Parkland does not perform abortions.)
The consequences spell disaster. Already, with decreased funding to family planning clinics in the Parkland Health system, the number of patients crowding the Women’s Emergency Room at Parkland has steadily increased for both low and high acuity issues. Compared to a low cost preventive visit to a family planning clinic, the cost of an ER visit charges a base of about $1500. The state eats this bill, as patients cannot pay. Without preventive care or contraception, the unplanned pregnancy rate will rise, placing increased burden on a breaking Medicaid system.
Regardless of individual opinions of abortion, taxes or politics, I hope we can all agree that having healthy women who get pregnant when they want to is an important goal. How did we let a bunch of stuffy men in suits and really ugly sweater vests start to hack away at women’s rights that we have been fighting for the last 100 years?
I am pro-choice but not pro-abortion. I would love for every pregnancy to be loved. Abstinence is a great option, and should be taught, however people are not going to stop having sex. Our evolutionary drive to reproduce is stronger than morals or politics. If we as a country of parents, educators and health care providers could teach our children, students and patients about safe sex and provide them with mental and physical resources to make healthy decisions for themselves, then we would reduce the abortion rate.
We are eliminating a program that saves money, increases patient choice, reduces unwanted expensive pregnancies and reduces abortion. Even though abortion only encompasses 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, sadly the almost 100% of women will be affected that participate in the Women’s Health Program. The results of undermining Planned Parenthood—Unplanned (and very expensive) Parenthood.
Elizabeth Breuer is an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at OB Cookie.