By Melissa Reed

How reproductive health care is dealt with in national health care reform is no small matter; and who provides this care is still to be determined.

For communities like ours, local health centers are where many people turn for trusted health care. In North Carolina, more than 504,160 low-income women need family planning services. Community health providers, like Planned Parenthood, often serve as an entry point for essential health care needs. And Planned Parenthood isn’t the only health center women rely on for preventive care.

Today, one in four women who receives contraceptive care does so at a women’s health center. One in six who obtains a Pap test or a pelvic exam does so at a women’s health center, as do one-third of women who receive counseling, testing or treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. This basic health care is essential, particularly during difficult economic times, to give women the tools they need to protect and support their families. This is particularly true when you consider that women of childbearing age spend a remarkable 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men, in part because of reproductive health-related needs.

As Congress works to enact health care reform, they must make women’s health a priority and ensure that reproductive health care is covered. While this fact should be a given, the truth is that family planning and reproductive health care are still not fully part of mainstream health care, even though 98 percent of women use contraception at some point in their lives.

Two recent reports underscore the need for women’s health to be an integral part of health care reform.

A recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services titled "Roadblocks to Health Care: Why the Current Health Care System Does Not Work for Women" places an important spotlight on the impact that the nation’s health care crisis is having on women, particularly women of childbearing age. The report states that “women are more vulnerable to high health care costs ... [because] women’s reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly Pap tests, mammograms, and obstetric care.”

And a 2009 survey conducted for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women are delaying their annual exams as a result of the economic downturn.

These reports demonstrate the importance of ensuring comprehensive health care reform that meets the needs of American women and their families. To do this, health plans participating in any health insurance exchange must include community health providers in their network.

Protecting community health providers is fundamental to solving provider access issues that will come with expanding coverage and ensuring Americans can access trusted providers wherever they live. Each year, Planned Parenthood health centers across the country perform nearly one million Pap Tests, identifying 93,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer. And we provide more than 850,000 breast exams a year. In North Carolina alone Planned Parenthood provides these preventive health care services to more than 22,490 patients each year at its eight health centers across the state.

Under health care reform, women must have access to reproductive health care and their women’s health provider. Women cannot be worse off after health care reform than they are today.

How essential is your community health provider? The answer is simple -- if Americans want real health reform, community health providers must be part of the plan.
Reed is the vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood Health Systems.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 7/09


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