Viewpoints

Planned Parenthood’s role is essential to protecting women’s health on Central Coast

Demonstrators stood outside the San Luis Obispo Planned Parenthood to support the national health care organization, Saturday, February 11, 2017, as a counter-rally to a protest planned by the group #ProtestPP.
Demonstrators stood outside the San Luis Obispo Planned Parenthood to support the national health care organization, Saturday, February 11, 2017, as a counter-rally to a protest planned by the group #ProtestPP. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Each year, Planned Parenthood California Central Coast provides 35,000 people with high-quality, affordable health care at five health centers throughout Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

Our patients come to us to access a wide range of primary, preventive health care, most often seeking breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment.

The vast majority of our patients are women. For many, we are their only source of care.

Last week, House Republicans introduced a troubling plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as the American Health Care Act (ACHA).

The ACA was a historic expansion of care, especially for women. It expanded access to women’s health services, including birth control, maternity care and new baby care, and it prevents the unfair practice of charging women more than men for health insurance. The ACA also greatly expanded access to insurance coverage to vulnerable populations through the Medicaid expansion.

In contrast to the ACA, the ACHA erodes women’s health care and directly attacks Planned Parenthood’s patients.

If passed, the Republican health care plan would prevent anyone who relies on Medicaid or another federal program for health care from turning to Planned Parenthood as their health-care provider.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that preventing patients who rely on federal programs from receiving care at Planned Parenthood would reduce access to birth control and result in thousands more Medicaid births.

This is an unsurprising projection. Due in large part to Planned Parenthood’s efforts to expand access to birth control, the rates of unintended pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions have fallen to historic lows.

When Texas cut off funding to Planned Parenthood in 2014, thousands of women lost access to the most reliable forms of birth control. Medicaid pregnancies increased by 27 percent.

Locally, the impact would be disastrous.

In 2016, more than 25,000 of the 35,000 patients we saw at Planned Parenthood California Central Coast used a federal program to access care. This includes patients who relied on the Family PACT program, Medicare, Medicaid or Medicaid Managed Care, which includes CenCal and Gold Coast.

Federal dollars subsidize reimbursements for basic preventive health services, including cancer screenings, birth control and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment. No federal dollars support abortion services, which represent less than 10 percent of services provided at Planned Parenthood.

If Planned Parenthood were unable to receive reimbursements for our patients’ care, access would be reduced. The people most impacted would be those who already face the most barriers to care — people with low incomes, people of color and people living in rural areas.

House Speaker Paul Ryan claims that community health centers would serve those patients instead. The reality is there are already too few safety-net providers. Along the Central Coast, Planned Parenthood’s health centers in San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Thousand Oaks are an important part of a safety net that has taken decades to build.

You cannot simply replace Planned Parenthood’s critical role in this network.

In addition to being a disaster for women’s health, the ACHA’s proposal to cut Planned Parenthood off from federal funding is deeply unpopular. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that while the public is divided over the need to repeal and replace the ACA, the public overwhelmingly rejects cutting Planned Parenthood off from Medicaid. This includes majorities of women and men; Republicans and Democrats.

That’s because most Americans understand that today, more than ever, Planned Parenthood is the solution — not the problem. It’s time to defend the historic successes of the Affordable Care Act, and push back against political attacks on women’s health.

Jenna Tosh is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood California Central Coast.

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