Courageous Statements, Respect for Women’s Health at White House Health Care Summit

Cecile Richards and Timothy E. Wirth

Yesterday, President Obama made the audacious statement that we would reform the health care system in America this year.

Yesterday, President Obama made the
audacious statement that we would reform the health care system in
America this year. At what the President rightfully called the "hottest
ticket in town," a truly remarkable group of what Washington likes to
call stakeholders came together at the White House Health Care Summit
to ponder the seemingly intractable issue of reforming the nation’s
health care system. Under the steady gaze of portraits of George
Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, 150 health care providers, industry
reps, advocates and members of Congress took the first step, together,
to discuss the hopes and dreams of the American people to have a health
care system that ensures that everyone has access to quality,
affordable care.

Planned Parenthood
is the largest provider of women’s reproductive health care in the
country, providing preventative health care to more than three million
patients through a network of nearly 880 health care centers.
Ninety-seven percent of the services we provide are preventive, ranging
from cancer screenings to providing the HPV vaccine and contraception.

And, in these difficult economic times,
Planned Parenthood health centers are seeing more women entering our
doors. Our Northern California affiliate has had a 21 percent increase
due to women losing their jobs and health benefits. Planned Parenthood
of East Central Iowa now signs up five or six new patients each day
when it used to sign up that many in a week. A recent article in US News and World Report sheds
light on the impact that the economic downturn has had on women’s
health. The article reports that many people who have lost their health
insurance have been "swarming into Planned Parenthood clinics to get
free or subsidized contraception."

Yesterday, in a break-out session moderated by the White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, I was thrilled to be asked the first question about how,
as a health care provider, Planned Parenthood sees the need to reform
health care. To me, it was a signal that this president was serious
about making women’s health a priority. I took the opportunity to try
and shed some light on what women in this country need to strengthen
their health and the health of their families:

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  • Women need preventative care, including access to affordable and comprehensive family planning and reproductive health care.
    Women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health
    care costs than men, in part because of reproductive health-related
    needs and services. What does this tell us? It’s pretty simple – if we
    as a nation are serious about controlling costs and increasing access,
    we need to address the real health needs of women. Women need
    affordable contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care when
    pregnant and, with at least one in four teenage girls contracting a
    sexually transmitted infection, screenings and comprehensive
    educational to prevent STIs. Planned Parenthood screens nearly one
    million women each year for cervical cancer, conducts 850,000 breast
    exams in addition to the family planning and prenatal care we provide
    to ensure health families.
  • Increasing health care coverage will not work if we don’t also increase access.
    We applaud the president for the action he took earlier this week to
    use some of the economic stimulus money to fund community health
    centers. That’s an important first step. But there’s still a long way
    to go in addressing the provider shortage crisis faced by low income
    women. In Massachusetts where they enacted universal coverage, women
    have to wait 44 days to get an appointment for family planning
    services. As we move forward, we must build a strong infrastructure
    that includes support for women’s primary care providers including
    family planning health centers. For millions of women, Planned
    Parenthood clinics are their entry point for care. We provide access to
    a health care system that they often feel is out of reach, particularly
    as they search for affordable, trusted care. Our nation needs a network
    of family planning providers that care for low-income clients.
  • And we must recognize that government can’t do it alone. We
    need to empower women and their families to make informed decisions
    about their health care needs. At Planned Parenthood, we’ve been
    fighting to ensure that women have access to comprehensive information
    about their health care.

In the closing session, the president
addressed head on the elephant in the room – health care reform has
been tried time and time before and failed. And, with the economic woes
plaguing the nation, can we really afford to spend time on such a
difficult challenge?

And the overwhelming response was
deafening – we simply can’t afford not to act, especially in light of
these devastating economic times. Failure to act is no longer an
option.

Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island
captured the feeling in the room, saying that in the last go around of
health care reform, it was Harry and Louise. But this time, it’s more
like Thelma and Louise, headed over the Grand Canyon. And as President
Obama aptly noted, this time, we’re not going there. Working together,
we can succeed.

Yesterday was an incredible beginning –
and by all accounts we are moving fast. On behalf of the 1 in 4 women
in America who have been to our health centers, Planned Parenthood is
glad to be not only along for the ride, but a willing and able driver
to victory for desperately needed reform. We are proud to have a
president who has made women’s health a priority.

Cross posted on Huffington Post.

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