In 1999, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) named family planning one of the 10 most significant public health achievements of the 20th century. In July of 2007 a report was issued by the World Bank lauding “the value of contraception, family planning, and other reproductive health programs in helping to boost economic growth.” A 2008 report published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved found that, in the United States, family planning funding resulted in public sector savings of $4.3 billion in 2004. In its 2008 report on family planning, the Washington State Department of Health writes: “Family planning provides economic benefits to individuals, communities and the state.” And in a report released Feb. 24, the Guttmacher Institute shows that every dollar spent on family planning saves over four dollars in future health care costs.
The evidence is clear: Family planning saves money and supports economic opportunity. In the midst of a fiscal crisis, funds for this program should be preserved in our state budget.
Low-income Washingtonians are already experiencing barriers to getting the services they need. Between May 2005 and August 2008 there was a 51 percent drop in enrollment in the state’s largest family planning program attributable to new federal restrictions. In other words, 46,344 people are no longer being served by a successful, cost-effective, federally-supported program.
This has meant that for many people in our state family planning services — basic health care — may now be out of reach. In 2007 the state Office of Financial Management estimated the average annual cost of family planning services at $552 per person. Cheap when compared to the nearly $8,000 it costs the state for each Medicaid-paid birth resulting from an unplanned pregnancy, but beyond the financial capacity of many families struggling to get by.
And the need for low-cost family planning services is growing alongside our unemployment rate. For people who are suddenly without a job, paycheck and insurance, health care costs become a problem fast. Given a choice between family planning, buying food, fixing the car or paying the mortgage, many feel forced to forego their doctor’s visit for their annual exam and birth control.
In the last biennium, our Legislature allocated $10 million to begin to fill the gap in family planning services. Legislators recognized that no matter how much we disliked federal restrictions, Washington would pay the price in unintended pregnancy care if we didn’t do something about it. While this funding provides services for less than half of the more than 46,000 people who have lost family planning services, it has been a lifeline for those it covers, and has helped maintain the safety net of family planning clinics across the state.
In the current budget environment, this $10 million is at risk, but cutting it just doesn’t add up. Knowing that for every $1 million we cut in family planning services Washington can anticipate $4 million in unintended pregnancy care costs in the same biennium, the choice is clear: We can’t afford cuts to family planning funding.
Family planning providers fill a need far greater than providing people with contraception. Family planning offers breast, cervical and testicular cancer screening, physical exams, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, pregnancy testing, education and referrals. Family planning providers are a vital part of our health care safety net in Washington. For many people, a family planning clinic is their only contact with the health care system.
Lawmakers are faced with a multitude of difficult decisions as they search for ways to reduce costs and put together a balanced budget. When they think about family planning funding, a few things should be clear: Family planning saves money and is good for the future of our state. It isn’t expendable, and it isn’t superfluous. It’s basic health care and without it individuals and communities suffer. Family planning should be part of the plan for economic recovery.
Christine Charbonneau is president/CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.