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Family Planning Failure

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The House Health and Welfare Committee of the Idaho State Legislature had a golden opportunity to expand essential health care to women and men in Idaho-and to save money through averting costs to the state Medicaid program. What should have been a win-win situation for the State of Idaho was blown by a select few who chose to turn this into a debate on abortion.

Once again, politicians were more interested in playing politics than passing legislation that would have brought millions of dollars into Idaho to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions.

Senate Bill 1140 would have extended family planning health care to women over age 19 who are enrolled in the Medicaid Pregnant Women and Children (PWC) program. Additionally, SB1140 would have provided family planning health care to mothers and fathers who have children enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It was defeated by a vote of eight to four in the House Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Block (R-Twin Falls).

This is known as a family planning waiver program supported by the federal government. For every $1 a state puts into this program, the federal government matches it with $9. Idaho puts in nothing and gets nothing.

Twenty-one other states have participated in these types of programs with huge successes in reducing the unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection and abortion rates.

Services provided under the waiver would have included comprehensive physical examination and related periodic visits; related counseling and education, including abstinence; breast cancer screening; cervical cancer screening; testicular cancer screening; screening for sexually transmitted diseases; pregnancy testing; HIV screening and counseling; FDA-approved contraceptive supplies; voluntary sterilization services for women; voluntary vasectomies for men. Abortion is not covered.

The National Governor's Association, chaired by Gov. Kempthorne, published an issues brief titled, "Healthy Babies: Efforts to Improve Birth Outcomes and Reduce High Risk Births," highlighting strategies for states to improve healthy birth outcomes. The NGA listed family planning waivers as a successful policy.

Gov. Kempthorne's organization stated, "States have used Family Planning Waivers in seeking to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, to increase spacing between births, and to improve birth outcomes. These waivers assist states in improving birth outcomes by improving access to reproductive health services such as screening and treatment of HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which if left undetected can lead to poor birth outcomes. Waivers also assist states in improving birth outcomes by preventing pregnancies within nine months of a previous delivery, which can lead to low birth weight and infant mortality."

Family planning waivers are wildly successful and effective. These programs are budget neutral, meaning that the savings is greater to the states than the amount spent on family planning services. For instance, in 2003, Oregon's program saw statewide savings of nearly $20 million the first year.

For Idaho, the fiscal impact to the General Fund would have been $212,500 in year one, $300,694 in year two, a savings of $1,541,028 in year three, a savings of $1,632,920 in year four, and a savings of $1,632,920 again in year five. The strains on Idaho's Medicaid program are not going to disappear, in fact, they are only increasing year after year. It is a shameful waste for the Idaho State Legislature to have walked away from this program because religious zealots chose to make this a debate about abortion.

I implore you to contact your legislators and tell them that you support family planning waivers and that along with our governor, you expect them to support it on your behalf when this issue comes up again next year. No apologies! No retreats!