For months now, Planned Parenthood seemed inescapable–not only in the news but all over Facebook in the form of memes with pictures of aborted fetuses and tiny premature babies, usually following a Biblical quote–the perils of having conservative friends on Facebook.
They would have you believe that PP is some sort of Halloween Horror House and Gordon Gekko hybrid: hacking babies into little pieces to sell to the highest bidder. After all, greed is good and what could possibly be suspicious about a secretly filmed video from a known anti-abortion activist group? And let us not forget the “Under Criminal Investigation” buzz phrase that seems to be so popular (but apparently selective amnesia about the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ clause in the Constitution is a-ok) (and also fails to mention that every single state which has conducted an investigation so far has declared accusations unfounded).
Worse, yet, in their eyes (and in their headlines), the government is supposedly funding all of this. That’s right, your tax dollars are being bundled up in giant canvas bags with dollar signs on them and being left on the doorsteps of every PP clinic so that they can fund all their nefarious work. As an aside, I’m always curious whether they believe taxes are funding a butcher’s knife and a single swinging light bulb, or whether they picture some sort of high end clinic run by Cruella de Ville who simply grew tired of dalmatians…
images | Planned Parenthood
… In any case, and in case it isn’t clear, I treat these accusations with the derision they deserve. Normally, when I read such ridiculous distortions of the truth, I roll my eyes and my fingers momentarily hover over the unfriend button as I say a little mantra about how this is America: a country ostensibly founded on the ideal of having different opinions, views, and religious beliefs (you know, as long as we overlook the whole Native American thing.) But I find myself getting more incredulous, enraged, and even terrified for the women of the future when I read articles about Planned Parenthood. Why? In part because I believe in logic and statistics but also because I was a patient at the PP in Norfolk for many years and have seen first hand the value and importance of this organization.
When I was a dependent under my dad’s military insurance, I never had to worry about how much going to a doctor cost–it was all covered–exams, prescriptions, everything. But in college, I had to get my own policy–a policy with a high deductible, which meant unless I was getting hit by a truck crossing Hampton Blvd to get to class, I was paying for everything out of pocket. It took me awhile, but this is when I learned that not all medical care cost the same. Most notably, I discovered that an annual exam at Planned Parenthood cost me 70% less than I was paying my doctor’s office and that birth control that was costing me $92/month at Walmart would only cost me $21 at Planned Parenthood!
That’s not to say that I was happy the first time I went to PP. I felt like there was a stigma, and my embarrassment didn’t lessen when I walked up to the front door… the locked front door… you see, apparently a woman can’t even get a pap test without worrying about protesters or the occasional bomb threat–which makes an intercom and buzzing patients in necessary. But, inside the waiting room, I was surprised to see just how diverse the clientele was: women and men, teenagers to middle aged, students to professionals. PP was a place to get quality medical care at an affordable rate by staff that was dedicated to their motto: Care, No Matter What.
I’ve struggled to write this article for weeks now; how could I really convey the complexity of not only the political issues, but also the depth of my experiences? How can I really describe the nervousness of the teen couple waiting for their pregnancy test appointment? or the appreciativeness of the recent college grad who was waiting for prenatal care? Or the fear of the guy there for STI testing? (Apparently, I’m a magnet for people to talk to in waiting rooms.) More importantly, how can I describe how respectful, compassionate and dedicated the staff was? Everyone was treated with dignity, non judgment, and as people, not insurance dollars.
The reason PP offers services at such a low rate is not because the government is solely funding it: let’s be clear, it is not a government free clinic nor is it run by the public health department. What PP is, is a nonprofit organization. Last year, the government provided a little over 40% of PP’s operating revenue. The rest was comprised of private, non-government services, and other sources. But that 40%, specifically $528 million, did not come in the form of a giant Ed McMahon check, it came from Medicaid and Title X reimbursements for individual services rendered. Approximately 79% of patients fall below the poverty level and are entitled to use Medicaid to pay for things like STI testing, annual exams, and cancer screenings. Title X is a federal family planning program which primarily serves lower income Americans, as well.
So let’s be crystal: Title X does not allow funds to be used on abortions. Medicaid does however fund abortions–under extremely restricted circumstances. The 1997 Hyde Amendment allows federal Medicaid funds to be used on abortions in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. So far only 17 states have expanded upon that to include “medically necessary abortions,” with the states picking up the costs. But I always feel the abortion debate is a red herring. Abortions comprise a minuscule portion of the services rendered in a year–approximately 3%. In fact, many of PP clinics don’t even offer that procedure.
Instead of focusing on the 3% abortions, let’s look to the 42% STI testing (4.5 MILLION), the 34 % contraceptive prescriptions, and the 500,000 breast exams performed in 2013 alone. And let’s wonder what will happen to those who use these services if PP closes. It’s easy to brush off concerns that women with Medicaid can simply go to another gynecologist for services when you live in a place like Hampton Roads where medical offices abound. But statistically, over the country, PP provides services to women who don’t live near other viable options. And what will happen to the other hundreds of thousands of women, who, like me, did not have Medicaid, but rather, crappy insurance? Women who pay out of pocket for services that will cost two or three times as much in a typical doctor’s office, and which may now become cost prohibitive? What about teens who are afraid of using their parents’ insurance to be screened for STIs? PP provides vital care that everyone should have access to, but economically, without them, not everyone does.
When I first sat down to write this piece, I was going to share my story, a long saga about a mysterious medical condition I developed and how a dedicated nurse practitioner at PP was able to diagnosis and treat it (for $150 worth of testing)….something that literally a dozen other doctors I had seen–and who seemed more interested in racking up tens of thousands of dollars in office visits and testing–couldn’t. But the truth is, my story is not unique. Every day, the staff at PPs all over the country act as heroes to men and women. They work at PP, not for the money or the prestige that medical personnel elsewhere might, but because they believe in the importance of care for everyone.
Because this is turning into a borderline melodramatic piece about my appreciation for the care PP has provided me over the years, I will leave you with a few moments of hilarity, because really, sometimes all you can do is laugh:
1. When asked to provide a list of other family planning providers in Louisiana, the state which is fighting to de-fund PP, provided a list of over 2,000 doctors–which the federal judge quickly discovered contained, among others, audiologists and dentists. Who knew? Next time you’re in for a cleaning, ask your dentist about the benefits of IUDs v. pills.
2. At Tuesday’s House Hearing, the House Oversight Committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, opened with a tear filled monologue insinuating that PP had a hand in killing his parents… who died of cancer. Let’s let that sink in again. Maybe he’s right, maybe if the government wasn’t ‘wasting’ money on that pesky Medicaid for the less fortunate all cancer would be cured and his parents would still be with us today… but I’m too busy picturing Mr. Chaffetz as a bizarre version of Bruce Wayne out to avenge his parent’s death at the hands of PP to really work out the logistics of that argument right now.
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