Roundup: Balancing Budgets on the Backs of Poor Women

Robin Marty

Seems like many states will do anything to save a few dollars, even if it costs them down the road.  And the easiest target is always the low-income woman.

Low-income women are taking the brunt of a poor economy when it comes to their healthcare.  With so many states hoping to balance the budget by limiting or eliminating women’s reproductive healthcare, it’s easy to see that what for now implies “fiscal conservatism” could balloon into a crisis when women without insurance and the babies they are carrying have to face catastrophic costs to cure maladies that could have been avoided if their preventative care hadn’t been gutted.

Florida had now begun down the same path, announcing that they will be eliminating care to all adults at three Jacksonville public health clinics – including pregnant women.

Via Jacksonville.com:

Three public health clinics in Jacksonville plan to stop treating adults after today, forcing more than 6,000 patients, including many pregnant women, to seek care elsewhere.

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The cuts are aimed at defraying a $2.8 million drop in the Duval County Health Department’s health care services budget this year, said Tim Lawther, the department’s assistant director. He attributed the decrease to a reduction in state spending on health care and the demise of a $1 million grant that sought to expand the county’s primary-care options.

At the West Jacksonville Family Health Center on King Street, adult primary care will no longer be an option as of Wednesday. Women’s health services, which include prenatal care, are being eliminated at the Marietta Health Center on West Beaver Street and the Center for Women and Children on West Sixth Street.

Children’s health services will remain untouched.

Health Department officials say they are working to reassign affected patients to other locations. The department sent letters to every patient who had an appointment at one of the clinics over the past six weeks, notifying them of the change.

But some will almost certainly find themselves turning to charity-care organizations or choosing to go without care because of the inconvenience, officials say.

“The honest reality is that services will be reduced for the uninsured population at the Health Department,” Lawther said.

In California, mamograms and cervical cancer screenings for low income women had been either elminated or reduced in an attempt to save money for the state.  However, that may be reversed if the governor signs a new bill passed by the legislature to roll back those cuts.

From KBPS.org:

A bill supporters say is essential to women’s health is awaiting a decision by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It would fully restore a program that provides free cancer screenings to low-income women.

The Every Woman Counts Program offers breast and cervical cancer screenings to poor women statewide. More than 6,000 women in San Diego County use the program annually.

Late last year, the governor made some changes to save money. He raised the minimum age for eligibility for mammograms from 40 years old to 50. He also froze enrollment in the program.

The legislature has unanimously approved a bill that would reverse those changes.

Supporters say early detection of cancer is key to surviving the disease. They say screenings of low-income women ultimately save lives, and save the state money.

Luckily, not all states are interested in the pennywise, pound foolish effort of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.  Wisconsin is still going forward with its plan to use medicaid funds to provide birth control, knowing that prevention of unwanted pregnancy now can save the state large amounts of money down the road.

Of course, conservatives, fiscal or otherwise, still refuse to see that correlation, as The UWM Post notes:

With all the criticism that has arisen from conservative groups, this must be the first time any state has tried to receive funding for this cause, right? Wrong. “Twenty-six other states already provide free contraception and other reproductive health services through a Medicaid pilot to lower-earning women who otherwise wouldn’t qualify,” according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Interestingly enough, half of those states are from the Midwest, too: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri.

Perhaps my understanding and support of this funding is generational, but the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive issues for low-income individuals just seems logical.

Wisconsin’s federal Medicaid funding reimburses 90 percent of the cost of most family-planning services, so with 53,000 people receiving this aid in the state, Wisconsin spent $18.4 million on the program in 2008, according to WSJ. In comparison, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services estimates that the program prevented 11,064 unplanned pregnancies, which means they saved an estimated $139.1 million in expenses that would have gone to the birth and care of those children. As Jason Helgerson, Wisconsin’s Medicaid Director, told The Wall Street Journal, “Regardless of your political stripes, I don’t think anybody wants [unplanned pregnancies].”

Mini-Roundup: Opponents of reproductive health are wondering why people would google “abortion?”  Maybe it’s because their definition of the term is somewhat lacking.

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