Medicaid Expansion May Increase Access to Birth Control

Amie Newman

An expanded Medicaid provision in health care reform may increase access to birth control. Predictably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is screaming that this is actually "dismissive of women."

“This is a dose of radical pragmatism,” says Advocates for Youth president, James Wagoner. He’s talking about health care reform and more specifically the idea that funding prevention programs: from women’s health exams to STI protection to birth control actually works. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision will funnel more money to the states and do away with cumbersome bureacratic “waivers,” allowing the states to expand their Medicaid programs, including expansion of coverage for contraception through Medicaid, and actually do what works: provide access to preventive reproductive and sexual health care.

Part 1 – James Wagoner from Family Planning Health Services on Vimeo.

The federal government will now reimburse 90 percent of the costs of state family planning programs to states that opt-in (states are not compelled to do so). Wisconsin has announced that they will use the opportunity to do just that and will expand the state’s existing program, offering free family planning and other reproductive health services including birth control, Pap smears, vasectomies and sexually transmitted infection testing to those who qualify. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal today, 26 other states have similar programs as well. Some of the state programs, Wisconsin’s being one of them, allow anyone within the income guidelines, age 15 years old or older, to access free contraception and other forms of family planning services.

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In a video interview, Lon Newman, Executive Director of Wisconsin’s Family Planning Health Services, Inc., calls the Medicaid expansion “a great victory” for maternal and child health and reproductive health in general as it allows for more lower-income Americans, some of our most vulnerable for lack of access to health care, greater access to quality, affordable care.

As it relates specifically to younger people, Wagoner calls it “historic” and a way to get the United States on the right track towards curbing some frightening scenarios for our youth:

“Every day 10,000 young people become infected with STIs. 2,000 young women become pregnant…the U.S. is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to developed nations,” says Wagoner.

Wagoner says that the ability to expand access to contraception and other health services to young people deals “a death blow to the myth… that we should fear prevention.” Ensuring that young people have access to contraception and reproductive and sexual health care services does not provide a magic passage-way to becoming sexually active; it keeps our young people protected, healthy and saves immense amounts of money as well. From the Wall Street Journal article,

“Wisconsin says about 53,000 people receive extra family-planning help under Medicaid. With federal Medicaid funds reimbursing 90% of the cost of most family-planning services, the state spent $18.4 million on the program in 2008.

That same year, the state’s health department estimates, the program prevented an estimated 11,064 unplanned pregnancies, at a savings it estimates at $139.1 million—savings, it says, in expenditures to cover the birth of those children and other health care for them.”

The Wisconsin family planning expansion program, according to Newman, is estimated to save the state $487 million over the course of the first five years of the program. As for the absolutely baseless argument that expanding these services will cost our federal government money? Wagoner cites these numbers: teen pregnancy costs the federal government $9 billion per year while STIs among teens costs $6.5 billion per year. The federal government’s decision to focus on prevention and provision of needed health care services to lower income Americans saves the federal government money by cutting that $15 billion in half.

In perhaps the most astonishingly absurd statement to come out of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since, well, maybe yesterday, a representative of the group calls the provision “dismissive of women:”

To provide coverage for family planning and nothing else, said Richard Doerflinger, an associate director of the group, reflects “a very dismissive view of women: The reproductive system is the only part of you we’re interested in, and our interest is only to make sure it doesn’t produce.”

Ensuring that women and girls are able to access the care they need to remain healthy and alive, birth healthy babies, maintain their health while parenting or not, and overall have greater access to providing themselves with a higher quality of life, is “dismissive of women,” according to the USCCB. Apparently, however, almost stomping out health care reform efforts entirely for millions of Americans because you’re myopically and maniacally consumed with women’s access to abortion in health care reform, is not? Does “scraping the bottom of the barrel” mean anything to these guys?

For about a million and one more reasons to support exanded access to birth control, Pap smears, STI prevention programs and treatment, vasectomies, visit belowthewaist.org. There are a host of video interview with key players in this historic Medicaid expansion from Rep. Lois Capps to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and soon, Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien.

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