Family planning exclusions aren't in state's best interest

All UnityPoint Health clinics and hospitals have been excluded from participating in the new Iowa Family Planning Program, which was established by Iowa lawmakers in the spring of 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
All UnityPoint Health clinics and hospitals have been excluded from participating in the new Iowa Family Planning Program, which was established by Iowa lawmakers in the spring of 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Changes in Iowa’s family planning program for low-income residents continue to winnow access to services. Iowans are now paying more for less, and larger taxpayer burdens are looming.

Before this year Iowa participated in a program that mixed federal and state dollars to provide low-income residents robust access to health screenings, contraceptives and prenatal care. In an effort to exclude abortion providers — although no money under the state-federal partnership could be used for abortion services — state lawmakers created a state-run and -funded program.

Iowa Republicans championing this switch circulated a list of more than 2,400 providers they said would offer services under their plan, and quickly established the new Family Planning Program on a party-line vote.

But that list has continued to shrink under scrutiny. The approved list, still undergoing cleanup, now contains 1,320 providers. Among those are clinics open for only a few hours each week or month, offices that don’t offer family planning services, and providers who offer only certain types of contraception and services due to moral or religious objection.

What Iowans seeking care won’t find is of one of the state’s largest health systems, UnityPoint Health. That’s because a small number of facilities with the UnityPoint designation provide abortions in rare circumstances, such as fetal anomaly. Although no funds from the state program could or would be used in those instances, the new program requires all UnityPoint clinics and hospitals be excluded and provides no method for appeal.

In their crusade against abortion, Iowa lawmakers appear to have lost sight of why the state has a vested interest in encouraging planned pregnancies and reproductive health screenings. Doing so helps women avoid unplanned births, abortions and miscarriages. It reduces the spread of sexually-transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV. Early births or low birth-weight deliveries occur less frequently.

Collectively, such family planning services yield not only health dividends for those served, but substantial government savings — an estimated $7 for every $1 spent.

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Further collapse of access to family planning services, or further exclusion of long-standing and ethical providers like UnityPoint, is not in Iowan’s, the state’s or the taxpayers’ best interest. Legislators must fix the law.

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

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