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Dark future of US healthcare without Planned Parenthood

As Republicans prepare to defund Planned Parenthood nationally, those left to provide contraception and other services in US states that have already done so say women of color and from low-income groups will be hit the hardest

By Molly Redden  /  The Guardian

The other four out of five women in the survey who wanted another dose, got one, but it was not always free, and it was not always straightforward. Forty-three percent of these women reported that it cost them time or money to find a new provider.

In Midland, because other providers were scarce, 65 percent of the women surveyed kept going to Planned Parenthood, even though it now meant paying out of pocket.

Defunding Planned Parenthood, in other words, did not necessarily stop women from relying on Planned Parenthood for health care — it just forced them to replace the state’s money with their own.

“These results should be cautionary to states considering similar measures,” the study said. “They contradict the claim that Planned Parenthood could be removed from a statewide program with little or no consequence.”

Another study found that after Texas kicked Planned Parenthood out of the Women’s Health Program, there were drops of more than 30 percent in reimbursement claims for some of the most effective methods of contraceptives (although not birth control pills). The drops were only observed in counties where women had previously used local Planned Parenthood affiliates.

That study also measured a small but real uptick in births by women on Medicaid, although there are other explanations besides the loss of Planned Parenthood.

“Texas’ experience illuminates what may happen on a larger scale,” University of Texas-Austin researcher Joe Potter said. “Each person involved in the program had to go find a new provider, and whether or not the new providers have the training, experience and bureaucratic set up so women can get care promptly is a big question mark.”

Mike Austin, who runs the clinic in Midland, says the problem is not just that local health clinics might not have the capacity. In fact, he was one of few public health officials interviewed who felt that federally funded healthcare clinics really could provide for Planned Parenthood’s patients — eventually.

“Logistically, yes, it can happen,” he said. “But it can’t happen for free or overnight. In Dallas or Austin you could be talking about 10,000 people being displaced into the community health system. I’m sure [local clinics] would do their best, but it would take a ramp-up to do it.”

A Texas health department survey of the state indicates that the capacity to absorb Planned Parenthood patients might exist, but the problem, as Austin’s experience attests, is getting all of the same patients that Planned Parenthood once served through the door.

Clinics like his also have an extremely limited ability to advertise their existence. Women know what Planned Parenthood is and the services it offers. Also, MCHS does not employ the same medical professionals as Planned Parenthood — people that patients have trusted for years with personal and sometimes embarrassing issues.

All these could be reasons why hundreds of Planned Parenthood patients, unless they moved or found other care, never transferred to Austin’s clinic.

Recently, MCHS moved most of the 5,000 records it inherited from Planned Parenthood into storage.

“It broke my heart,” Austin said. “Here’s 5,000 people who have basically been thrown out on the street. What happened to them? I can only account for about a hundred of them. What happened to the rest?”

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