DHS must make accuracy a priority for Family Planning Program

Since Iowa's Family Planning Program began operating last summer, the database of providers maintained by the Department of Human Services has been riddled with errors. Difficulty in finding a provider means fewer Iowans may be without birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)
Since Iowa's Family Planning Program began operating last summer, the database of providers maintained by the Department of Human Services has been riddled with errors. Difficulty in finding a provider means fewer Iowans may be without birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)

Regardless of lawmakers’ intent when casting aside federal funding to create a state-run family planning program, transparency and accuracy remained paramount.

Yet, nearly seven months into the new Family Planning Program, Iowans seeking services are directed to a provider database that’s riddled with errors. Information for some providers is duplicated. Health care professionals who do not provide family planning services are included. Shuttered clinics remain listed.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Human Services, which maintains the database, pledged this week to fix these problems. It’s the same pledge that’s been repeated since the flawed list was unveiled last summer.

Speaking before the Iowa Senate Human Resources Committee on Wednesday, DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven admitted preliminary program data indicates a drop in the number of Iowans accessing services under the program.

“I’m not saying we need to recruit more providers, but we need to make sure the patients know all that’s available to them,” Foxhoven said. “I think we’re at fault for that.”

Rethinking the procedure used to create the list would be a good first step. Instead of asking Iowa providers if they offer reproductive health services like Pap smears, contraception and sexually transmitted disease testing, DHS officials circulated an anti-abortion “attestation” for providers to sign.

The new state-funded program, championed by the GOP legislative majority last session, was specifically written to exclude abortion providers and providers within medical networks that offer abortions in any circumstance. Providers who signed the anti-abortion form were included, regardless of their ability or interest in providing family planning services.

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So, let’s be clear: Iowans will not measure the success or failure of the Family Planning Program on the number of abortion providers excluded from the funding pool, but on the ability of vulnerable people to access necessary reproductive health services.

Iowans understand that limiting access leads to higher rates of sexually transmitted disease, more unplanned and teen pregnancies, less prenatal care, more premature and low birth-weight babies and more women seeking abortions.

Barring immediate action by DHS to make good on its pledge and truly fix the list, failure is imminent.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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