The White House regional summit on health reform made its way to Vermont last month. I was glad to be there to represent the 70,000 women, men and teens who seek reproductive and sexual health care and education services at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) every year across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It was a great opportunity to engage in a rich debate about the future of our health care system, and to advocate for the vital preventive services that Planned Parenthood provides.
Of PPNNE services, 95 percent are prevention-oriented, offering affordable contraceptives, STI testing and treatment, cancer screening and well-woman care. Our caring and experienced clinicians offer services to women and men of all ages and incomes via a sliding fee scale. Insured patients -- and state and federal subsidies -- help support services for those who are insured. Over 80 percent of PPNNE patients fall below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. It is well-documented that for every dollar invested in family planning, the government saves $4 down the road in costs related to unintended pregnancy. Unfortunately, as health care costs rise, government subsidies fall way short of covering the gap.
A particularly poignant moment at the summit for me was hearing a college student voice her fear of not having access to health care after she graduates from college. In a recent PPNNE survey, women 18-40 reported that access to affordable quality health care was their top concern. As more women lose their jobs and lose health insurance, we are increasingly hearing stories about the tough choices women are making between basic needs and health care. With the downturn in the economy, PPNNE's accessible preventive services are more important than ever to ensure women are able to make safe and responsible choices for themselves and their families.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is a critical safety net health care provider and entry point into the health care system. The Women's Research and Education Institute reports that six in 10 clients consider a family planning center, like Planned Parenthood, their main source of health care. Often, it is also their first interaction with the country's health care system. Furthermore, women are adversely affected when it comes to health care costs and access. Women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men, in part because of reproductive-health-related supplies and services.
As we look to the future, we must build a strong health infrastructure that includes support for providers who take care of the unique needs of women and teens, helping build a strong foundation for healthy families and communities.
We must develop a health care reform plan that ensures that every person has access to affordable, high-quality health care, including comprehensive reproductive health care, from a provider of their choice. For more information about PPNNE, visit www.ppnne.org.
Nancy Mosher of Barre is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
April 26, 2009