The Roanoke Times

September 6, 2009


Women shouldn't lose access to health care

By David Nova


David Nova is Vice President of Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc.



Ten women.  My measure of effective health care reform is based on the words of ten wise women, all of them longstanding patients of Planned Parenthood in Roanoke.


Planned Parenthood invited them to participate in a focus group discussion.  We wanted to know what made them such loyal clients of ours year after year.


Among their many insights came a surprise revelation:  Nearly all of them have had health insurance coverage for years.  Yet, for years they came to Planned Parenthood and paid in cash for their healthcare needs. 


We had assumed that after our patients (women and men) obtained health insurance they seek medical care from health care providers that accepts their insurance.  In truth, having insurance doesnít necessarily make health care more affordable.  Thatís especially true of preventive womenís healthcare.


Too many women have insurance policies that do not cover the cost of their birth control pills (but cover Viagra!)  Too many others canít afford to pay hundreds of dollars towards their deductable to see a private practitioner.  They instead come to Planned Parenthood for professional healthcare at a fraction of the cost.


Thanks to the focus group, our local Planned Parenthood now accepts health insurance.  We added this payment option to ensure greater access to womenís reproductive health care.  Yet, access to womenís health care remains elusive under health care reform.


Not only has publicly funded abortion services been all but eliminated from the health care reform proposals before Congress, but amendments have be offered to prevent even private insurance companies from continuing to offer such services. 


The assault on reproductive health care being waged by some members of Congress further extends to basic contraception.  The more than 100 Congressional amendments to limit access to womenís health include efforts to restrict access to birth control pills and emergency contraception.  Some members of Congress have also sought to bar Planned Parenthoodís participation as a healthcare provider under health care reform.


The vast majority of Americans believe that women shouldn't be worse off as a result of health care reform. A recent poll conducted by the Mellman Group on behalf of the National Women's Law Center found that American voters would oppose a plan that does not include access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care -- because voters want health care decisions to be made by medical experts, not by members of Congress, and certainly not by opponents of reproductive healthcare.


Women in America have the most to gain and also the most to lose from health care reform. Women are the largest providers of health care, users of health care, and purchasers of health care, and women make the majority of the health care decisions for their families. Public opinion research has shown repeatedly that a major concern of women voters is that they could be left worse off after health care reform, by losing access to either care or to their provider of choice.


The concerns go beyond just reproductive health care.  The women in our focus group and in so many others have come to rely upon Planned Parenthood as their primary care provider - not only for birth control, but for stomach pains, urinary tract infections and other ailments that we can address promptly, personally and affordably.


In hundreds of communities beyond Roanoke, women and their families rely upon Planned Parenthood as an essential community provider.  They rely upon us and other reproductive health care providers not only for birth control, but also for cancer screenings, immunizations, flu shots, and basic health care needs.


The United States currently has the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and teenage pregnancy in the developed world.  Fifty percent of sexually active Americans suffer a sexually transmitted disease by age 25.  These are crises in public health that result from the limits already placed upon reproductive health care, particularly care for women.  Further limits would worsen the public health.


Congress has the opportunity to recognize womenís health care as a core component of health care reform.  Alternatively, reforms could further marginalize womenís healthcare in America.  The final prescription will depend upon how many of us speak as plainly and clearly as those ten wise women.