Family planning centers face tough pricing decisions due to slashed funding

  • The Equality Health Center director outside the facility on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Geoff Forester

Monitor staff
Published: 9/20/2021 6:14:38 PM

Family planning centers may begin to narrow health services for low-income women after the Executive Council voted down a series of contracts last week, the leader of Concord’s Equality Health Center said Monday.

Family planning centers often provide care for women in rural or low-income areas who don't qualify for Medicaid or insurance from their employers. With their current level of funding, the Equality Health Center is able to offer reduced fees to those earning less than 250% of the federal poverty level, which is about $32,200 a year for a single individual or $42,500 for a couple.

Executive Director Dalia Vidunas said the clinic’s leadership is meeting this week to reevaluate whether that sliding fee scale is still feasible. Several affordable health services are also at risk, Vidunas said. She said right now, the center is able to provide $95 STD tests even though they cost the center $92 to perform.

“All of that goes away,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things that you’re not going to see happen from now on: people aren’t going to be able to afford services that don’t have insurance, or who have that $5,000 deductible.”

New Hampshire’s Democratic Congressional delegation held a press conference Monday morning criticizing the Republican-led Executive Council vote last week that stripped family planning centers across the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts.

The four executive councilors who voted against the contracts said they worried federal funding would be used to provide abortions. Federal law bars family planning centers from using public dollars for abortion services – the money was intended to fund other health services such as sexually transmitted disease testing and cancer screenings.

U.S Senator Jeanne Shaheen said the vote was an attack on women’s health care.

“For all of those people who claim this is an effort to reduce abortions, that’s just wrong,” Shaheen said. “This is about providing health care for women and families who really need it and most of them don’t have any other options.”

Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said some health services could disappear for low-income women.

“I want to be very clear that our doors stay open,” she said. “But we possibly will see things like cuts to services or longer patient wait times.”

Family planning centers have already faced a rocky funding year.

Several centers lost funding after the Trump administration disallowed federally-funded clinics to discuss abortions or refer patients to abortion clinics.

Many centers, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, chose to withdraw from the nationwide family planning program, rather than abide by what they called a “gag rule.” The Biden administration has committed to reversing the Trump-era restrictions on federal funding however, this process will likely take several more weeks.

Members of the delegation asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide some financial support to centers while the administration works through the reversal.

“It’s a timing issue as to whether they can get funds here quickly enough,” said Rep. Ann Kuster.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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