Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) cast doubt today on the future of a joint state-federal program that provides free birth control through Medicaid to low- and middle-income Wisconsinites, when he unveiled a proposed deficit reduction bill that gives Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services the power to abolish the program.
Pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, whereas most non-pregnant people living at the same income level don’t qualify. For several years, states have had the option to apply for a renewable 3-year waiver to cover birth control for non-pregnant women whose incomes would qualify them for Medicaid if they became pregnant.
The logic is simple. Birth control used by women who do not want to be pregnant is much cheaper than unintended pregnancies. Without birth control, more women and their children would end up on Medicaid.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act builds on the success of the waiver program by allowing states to permanently expand their Medicaid programs to provide free birth control pills, instead of having to re-apply every few years. In December of 2010, Wisconsin became the first state to be approved for a permanent expansion, known as a State Planning Amendment or SPA.
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Walker’s bill doesn’t abolish the SPA in so many words, it merely gives the Wisconsin Department of Health Services the option of eliminating it. However, reproductive rights activists see the legislation as a direct assault on SPA.
Eliminating SPA would please two of Walker’s core constituencies: social conservatives (who oppose birth control for minors) and opponents of health care reform (who seek to repeal the PPACA outright, or block its implementation).
Governor Walker met with legislators on Wednesday to discuss how to minimize the state’s involvement in Medicaid expansions, according to the Wall Street Journal. Walker’s Secretary of Health Services, Dennis Smith, is a former Bush administration official who has written op/eds opposing state Medicaid expansions.
In January, the newly-elected governor joined 20 other states in a bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Lon Newman is the executive director of Family Planning Health Services, a non-profit network of Wisconsin family planning clinics. He was a leading figure in the campaign to win an SPA for Wisconsin. Newman questions why a purported deficit reduction bill is threatening a program that saves Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
The Family Planning Waiver Program saved $487 million state and federal dollars between 2003 and 2007, according to a report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
For every dollar Wisconsin spends on birth control, the federal government kicks in nine dollars.
Newman argues that it’s short-sighted for an administration whose mantra is “jobs, jobs, jobs” to be threatening access to family planning. The biggest cost of unplanned pregnancy, according to his research, falls on employers who have to replace employees who are forced out of the workforce by pregnancies they did not want and for which they did not plan.
“Personnel costs associated with unintended pregnancy far outweighed cost of birth and health care,” Newman said.
Neither Governor Walker’s office, nor the office of the Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith returned Rewire’s calls for comment.