The $200 Million Question

Cristina Page

Last week House Republicans staged a prime-time temper tantrum arguing they couldn't tolerate spending $200 million on contraceptive coverage in the stimulus. There never was a $200 million budget request for contraception.

Remember last week House Republicans, led by Rep. John Boehner,
staged a prime-time temper tantrum arguing they couldn’t tolerate
spending $200 million on contraceptive coverage, which they reported
was part of the stimulus plan? Democrats capitulated and contraception
was gone. Now, it turns out there never was a $200 million budget
request for contraception included.

Rep. Boehner made a huge "mistake," one that conveniently served
his interests, and that he didn’t step up to correct.  A week ago today
he stood on television and announced that the stimulus package included
hundreds of million of dollars for contraception, on Meet the Press he was more specific saying it would be "over $200 million." Ever since that dramatic press
conference, policy experts have been searching for any mention of such
an expenditure. Rep. Henry Waxman called Boehner’s office seeking their
source on it, but Boehner’s office is not forthcoming. That’s because
the budget item didn’t exist. There is a $200 million figure that
appears in the stimulus package for contraception: it refers to the
projected cost savings to the states in three years. Good thing the
package didn’t include mention of the $700 million it was projected to save
states in ten years. One could only imagine the outrage then.

The media perpetuated the Congressman’s self-serving blunder. They
used Boehner as an unimpeachable source, not checking to see if his
figure was correct. Turns out Boehner is impeachable. The inclusion of
contraception in the stimulus package was not a budget allocation but
instead a proposal to insert more government efficiency into the
process; streamlining the states’ cumbersome application process for
Medicaid waivers for family planning services. According to actual documentation
by the Congressional Budget Office, in the first three years the
provision would not cost more than 50 million each year. They project
that after the third year, it costs nothing and the savings to the
states would total more than 100 million each year. That’s $200 million
in savings by year five. $700 million in savings by year ten.

Currently under Medicaid the federal government acts as if pregnancy is
cheaper than preventing it. According to the experts, who have been
excluded from this debate, the provision in the stimulus package
would have allowed every woman who is already eligible for Medicaid
coverage for
pregnancy-related care, to be eligible for pregnancy prevention care
too. Just under half the states have already requested and received waivers to do exactly this – 14 even during the Bush administration.  Changing the law would have simply made it much quicker and easier for additional states to expand their Medicaid programs in this way, and for states already with expansions to renew their programs.

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Mary Jane Gallagher, President and CEO of the National Family
Planning and Reproductive Health Association, wrote on Rewire,

now, Medicaid – the government’s way of paying for health care for
low-income women and men – provides funding for pregnancy-related care
for women whose incomes are up to a certain percentage of the federal
poverty level (roughly $17,600 for a family of three).  The provision
that was stripped out of the House bill would have allowed states to
provide family planning services to anyone who, based on their income,
would be eligible for pregnancy-related care under Medicaid.  In other
words, if you would qualify for pregnancy-related care under Medicaid,
you would also qualify to access family planning services, including
contraceptives, if you do not wish to become pregnant.

So, a good question for the media to ask Boehner now: "Where did
you get the $200 million dollar figure on how much the provision would
cost? And when he’s unable or unwilling to answer that, the follow-up
question should be, "Why didn’t you correct this mistake? Why did you
let it get this out of hand?"

It remains to be seen whether the shock media still perpetuating the
story will become as apoplectic about being misled. Will Chris
Matthews, who compared offering poor women access to contraception to
the coercive forced abortion laws in China, inform his viewers of this
news? Will Curtis Sliwa, who appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to
announce that making contraception more accessible is part of Nancy
Pelosi’s plan to "eliminate minority populations," be swayed by the
truth? Will Neil Cavuto re-examine his proposal to encourage unwanted
pregnancy because, "You want more people eventually in this country
paying into social security because you have more people retiring."

We know the answer to those questions. The one question that does
remains is "Will Boehner get away with brazenly misleading the public
on this issue?" Hopefully some real journalism will emerge to answer
this question.

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