Don’t count on community health centers to fill the void if Planned Parenthood funding cut, study says

Most of the country’s community health centers can't take on significant numbers of new patients and can’t be counted on to provide a safety net if Planned Parenthood loses funding, a new survey found.

In a national survey, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and George Washington University, few community health centers said they can handle a large increase in patients, which could leave many women without family planning services if Planned Parenthood is defunded.

Less than one in five clinics report they could increase their patient load by 25% or more in the next year, the survey found. That finding suggests that community health centers would have trouble filling the void if the Trump administration excludes Planned Parenthood, which is the country’s largest network of free-standing family planning clinics, as a Medicaid or Title X family planning program provider.

Recent proposals from the Trump administration and some congressional leaders have sought to block Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program and redirect funds to other providers, such as community health centers.

The survey was undertaken to provide a look at the provision of reproductive healthcare to low-income women served by community health centers. It looked at the availability of family planning services at health centers at the same time there is political debate over the future of federal family planning funding through Medicaid and Title X.

The study is based on a survey, conducted between May and July 2017, of health centers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Community health centers play a major role in furnishing publicly funded reproductive healthcare, including family planning services, to women living in low-income and medically underserved communities. 

Even before he took office, Donald Trump’s election to the presidency sparked fears among many doctors and women about the future of abortion and reproductive rights. Women fearful that the Trump administration would limit reproductive rights gave immediate support to Planned Parenthood, which saw an increase in donations, emails and phone calls following the election.

While he has chipped away at it, Trump has not been able to carry out his promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which gives women access to 18 FDA-approved types of birth control at no out-of-pocket costs.

In January, the administration created a new “conscience and religious freedom” division within HHS’ Office for Civil Rights to protect doctors and other healthcare workers who have moral or religious objections to providing a medical service, such as abortion, or treating transgender patients. Opponents reacted swiftly, saying the move promotes discrimination against women and LGBTQ patients.

At the same time, HHS’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued new guidance to state Medicaid directors restoring state flexibility to decide program standards. The letter rescinded 2016 guidance that specifically restricted states’ ability to take certain actions against family-planning providers that offer abortion services, the HHS announcement said.