Public funds for family planning services are essential to ensuring people have somewhere to access health care, not just the insurance to pay for it.
As if somehow the case still needs to be made that family planning deserves federal funding (and apparently the case does need to be made), last week a panel of researchers, advocates, and family planning providers spoke at a Congressional briefing on the topic “The Publicly Funded Family Planning Network: An Essential Partner in the New Health Care Environment.” Among the panelists was Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn. She and the others explained how Title X, the only federally funded family planning program, fits into the health care landscape now so dramatically changed by the Affordable Care Act. On the heels of Flynn’s white paper on this topic, last Thursday’s panel marked the next step in Roosevelt’s approach to research and policy discussions – namely, to get ideas up and out to those, like the Congressional staffers who attended the briefing, that can convert them into action.
Some background: when Title X was signed into law in 1970, it was intended to ensure that more Americans had access to family planning services, including birth control, because of rising concerns about population growth and poverty. Title X funds patient services, staff salaries, infrastructure, and supplies at clinics across the country. The law had strong bipartisan support – Democrats worked alongside Congressman George H. W. Bush and President Richard Nixon to pass it. And it is pretty effective: according to Flynn, the program today provides care to 4.7 million individuals annually. From 1980 to 2000, Title X-funded clinics provided women with 54.4 million breast exams and 57.3 million Pap tests and prevented an estimated 20 million unintended pregnancies. It’s also cost effective: Flynn notes that in 2008 alone, services provided at Title X-supported clinics accounted for $3.4 billion in savings.
Opponents of federal family planning clinics argue that with full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the need for funding will drop off. No, said Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. Insurance, she pointed out, isn’t the same as access to care. Patients still need providers. Amanda Dennis of Ibis Reproductive Health, based in Cambridge, highlighted an Ibis study conducted after health care reform went into effect in Massachusetts, that found many women took their new insurance straight to Title X-funded clinics for family planning services. Patient numbers actually increased at these clinics and so did the number of insured patients. Women like the care they get at Title X clinics; having insurance doesn’t mean they want to switch providers.
The panel confirmed Flynn’s major conclusions on Title X: the Affordable Care Act doesn’t guarantee every American will be insured at all times, so there remains a need for publicly funded care providers. More federal funding for the Title X family planning network will be essential to ensure women can access reproductive health care. And Coleman drove home another invaluable point as we work on health care access: the Affordable Care Act creates a massive shift in the way many Americans actually go about getting their health care. As a child growing up with insurance, I had an annual physical that was scheduled months in advance, and my mom picked up our prescriptions at the pharmacy. Americans who grow up uninsured have a different experience. They go to public clinics, where they can expect long waits, and when they leave, they go with prescribed medication in hand, obtained at the on-site dispensary.
In other words, signing up for health insurance on healthcare.gov won’t on its own teach anyone how to use insurance. That will take a generational shift. Besides which, you don’t get health care from your insurance – you get health care from your doctor, and cover the costs with insurance. That’s why Title X clinics must remain an option. Public funding for family planning does increase access to providers. Advocates: keep driving this point home to legislators!
Rachel Goldfarb is the Communications Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.