Expansion of family planning services considered

Eligibility for the state’s publicly funded family planning services would be expanded under a bill heard by the Health and Human Services Committee Jan. 28.

LB77, introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, would require the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to submit a state plan amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) no later than Sept. 1, 2015, to provide medical assistance for family planning services to individuals with a family earned income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Nordquist said the bill would expand the state’s existing family planning services to reach a broader population in need of access. The new income level would equate to a family income of about $36,000 for a family of three, he said.

“Currently, 28 states—including our neighboring states of Iowa, Missouri and Wyoming—have federal approval to extend Medicaid for family planning services,” Nordquist said. “I introduced this bill because it’s the right thing to do for Nebraska women and families in need.”

Nordquist said the bill would save the state an estimated $13 million per year and likely would reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in Nebraska.

The bill also would appropriate $500,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2015-16 and FY2016-17 to DHHS. The funds would be directed to the Every Woman Matters program for services including preventive health and family planning services, education, outreach and reimbursement for:
• mammograms;
• breast examinations;
• Pap smears;
• colposcopy; and
• associated laboratory costs.

Dave Holmquist, representing the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, testified in support of the Every Woman Matters portion of the bill.

Increased funding for education and outreach regarding cancer screening would improve the program’s effectiveness, Holmquist said. Nebraska falls below the national average in the percentage of high-risk women who are screened for breast and cervical cancer through the program, he said.

“For the past several years, I don’t believe our state programs have been encouraged to provide appropriate education and outreach,” Holmquist said.

Mary Larsen of the Nebraska chapter of the March of Dimes testified in support of the bill, saying family planning is critical to healthy families.

“We strongly believe that healthy pregnancies and healthy babies start with planned pregnancies,” she said, adding that states that have increased access to family planning have improved health outcomes for mothers and infants.
“Currently, Nebraska ranks 51st in making family planning services available and 49th in the nation for funding for this issue,” Larsen said.

Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, spoke in opposition to the bill, citing moral, social and health concerns.

Schleppenbach said studies that show reductions in unplanned pregnancies in states that have expanded family planning services are flawed. The studies are based on estimates and assumptions rather than empirical data, he said, adding that contraceptive access may increase unplanned pregnancies by making women believe that they are insured against the risk of pregnancy.

“Encouraging this false sense of security may end up achieving the opposite of what this bill intends,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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