Increased access to family planning, preventive health services proposed

A bill that would expand eligibility for the state’s publicly funded family planning services and increase access to preventive health care was heard Feb. 18 by the Health and Human Services Committee.

LB782, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, 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 no later than Sept. 1, 2016, 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.

Under the bill, family planning services would include training in parenthood and education in the financial, career and generational implications of pregnancy and child rearing.

Schumacher said low-income individuals often do not understand the long-term consequences of unplanned pregnancies and that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“[We need] to provide good contraceptive counseling, to provide career counseling, to provide financial counseling so there is less of a possibility of another unplanned pregnancy,” he said.

The bill also would appropriate $500,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2016-17 and FY2017-18 to DHHS. The funds would be directed to the Every Woman Matters program for services including mammograms, breast examinations, Pap smears, colposcopy, associated laboratory costs and education and outreach.

Testimony focused on the portion of LB782 that would expand family planning services.

Molly McCleery of Nebraska Appleseed testified in support of the bill, saying it aligns well with other state priorities such as promoting quality early childhood education and reducing intergenerational poverty.

Currently, approximately half of all pregnancies in Nebraska are paid for by Medicaid, she said, and reducing that number would save the state a considerable amount of money. The federal government reimburses states for the cost of the family planning program at a 90 percent rate, she said, which is considerably higher than the Medicaid reimbursement rate.

“It’s generally estimated that for every $1 of publicly-funded family planning services there’s a savings of $4,” McCleery said.

Teresa Kenney, a women’s health practitioner in Omaha, testified in opposition to the bill. Greater access to contraceptives is not in the best interest of women or families, she said, in part because of the increased risk of disease associated with hormonal birth control methods.

“The starting point should always be that abstinence is the only 100 percent safe [option],” Kenney said.

Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, also testified in opposition to the bill, saying it would not produce the intended result.

He said studies show that only two of the six states that have utilized the family planning state plan amendment saw a reduction in unintended pregnancies. In addition, he said, research shows that women choose not to use contraception because of its failure rate and side effects, not because they cannot afford it.

“[That] assumption is undermined by studies that show that cost plays a small role,” Schleppenbach said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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