Journal Tribune – January 31, 2017
With the threat of federal defunding looming on the horizon, providers at Maine’s four Planned Parenthood health centers are concerned their patients might lose their insurance benefits, putting their health at risk.
In early January, the Senate passed a budget resolution, the first procedural step toward a budget reconciliation bill that aims to repeal the Affordable Care Act, championed by President Barack Obama, to to [sic] strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.
The measure would prohibit Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides preventative reproductive health care services, from receiving reimbursement for services provided to patients insured through federal programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
Representatives from the company say the effects of such measures will be felt locally. In Maine, about 25 percent of Planned Parenthood health center operations, totaling about $500,000 annually, are supported by reimbursements from Medicaid.
Amy Cookson, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said about 10,000 patients in Maine utilize Planned Parenthood centers for care each year, 2,200 of whom visit the Biddeford location alone. Of Maine’s total patients, 25 percent use their Medicaid benefits to pay for treatment.
If Congress does give the green light to defund the organization, that means nearly 600 Biddeford patients, in addition to patients at the Sanford clinic, could be left without coverage for potentially life-saving cancer screenings or sexually-transmitted infection testing.
“That’s significant,” Cookson said in a round-table discussion at the Biddeford clinic Monday.
Much of the conversation surrounding defunding Planned Parenthood has focused on abortion, but Cookson said that’s only a fraction of the services the organization provides — only about 3 percent nationally — and federal restrictions already withhold funding for abortion.
“There’s no federal funding for abortion, so what they’re talking about defunding are cancer screenings and STI testing and birth control,” Cookson said, noting that the Portland center is the only one to provide abortion services in Maine.
Those non-abortion services, said Planned Parenthood patient Valerie — who asked that her last name be withheld — are important, particularly for people who don’t have a lot of money.
“I believe it’s necessary for everyone to be able to access health care,” said Valerie. “It’s very important for people to take care of themselves and have the opportunity and possibly prevent illness. I have in the past not had coverage, and I was able to get care through Planned Parenthood.”
And Valerie’s not alone — in Maine, more than half of the patients live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. In Biddeford, that number jumps to two-thirds.
But the clinic doesn’t turn anybody away — a point of pride among those who work there.
“People come to (work at) Planned Parenthood because they bring a lot of passion to what they do, and we’re not homogenous in our interests,” said Kathleen, a certified nurse midwife at the Biddeford clinic, who also asked her last name not be used. “What I care about most above all things is access.”
Kathleen highlighted the clinic’s sliding pay scale, which determines payment based on income for those who do not have health insurance. She also said the center accommodates a variety of different schedules and works with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“People’s lives are complicated, and there is a really wonderfully diverse patient population in the Biddeford health center … people whose lives are very comfortable, and people whose lives really are more of a struggle,” Kathleen said. “I really think we treat everybody equally and with a lot of respect.
“I think that makes us stronger to be a place that has really a welcome door for everybody,” she said.