Congress cleared a major hurdle when it reached a bipartisan budget deal last month, but unfortunately that victory could be short-lived.
With lawmakers under pressure to pass a spending package for the rest of the fiscal year, there is real concern that funding for critical health initiatives, like the Title X family planning program, could once again become a target of politically motivated attacks.
Some anti-family planning members of Congress have promised to not only slash funding for Title X, which helps communities across the country, including in Arizona, provide family planning and other preventive health services to low-income people, but also to tack on harmful policy provisions to the bill that would seek to carve out providers.
The simple fact is that Title X-funded services can have a meaningful and life-long impact on the women, men and teens who seek care in our community. When patients have access to high-quality family planning care and information, they are more likely to get a better education, improve their economic security, and achieve overall wellness.
Four out of ten women who turn to confidential Title X health centers say it is their only source of health care.
Services provided by Title X-funded health centers nationwide helped women avert 1.1 million unintended pregnancies in 2013, which would have led to 501,000 unplanned births and 345,000 abortions. In Arizona in 2014, Title X-funded family planning services, including those provided by Planned Parenthood, prevented an estimated 6,800 unintended pregnancies that would have resulted in 3,370 unintended births and 2,320 abortions, saving $59.7 million in the process.
Without these services, the already-high unintended pregnancy rate would have been 30% higher. Title X is not only good health policy, it makes smart fiscal sense, too. Every dollar invested in publicly funded family planning saves about $7 in Medicaid costs across the country and $11.27 in Arizona for prenatal, pregnancy-related and medical care for newborns.
Despite growing bipartisan support for funding cost-effective programs proven to deliver results, Congress functionally cuts the Title X program year after year. From 2010-2014, funding in Arizona has been cut by more than $675,000.
In the aftermath, health centers have been forced to scale back hours, lay off staff, and even close their doors. The worst consequence of all, millions of women and men in need of publicly funded family planning services today are not getting access to care they need. In our state, nearly 17,000 fewer patients are being served by Title X services, despite a demonstrated need for publicly funded care.
If Congress is truly interested in reining in health care spending to spur economic growth, it should take a hard look at the impact of its actions on millions of vulnerable men, women and children across this country and fully fund Title X.
• Brenda “Bré” Thomas is CEO of the Arizona Family Health Partnership.