Expansion of contraceptive access discussed

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony March 20 on two bills that would expand access to contraceptive health care in Nebraska.

LB395, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would remove the prohibition against allowing health care professionals working at school-based health clinics to dispense, prescribe or counsel for contraceptive drugs or devices.

Conrad said the bill was introduced at the request of some school-based clinics that see a need for contraceptive health care services but are unable to provide them.

“The clinics are doing great work,” she said, “but they are unable to treat the health needs of the population that they are meant to serve.”

Greg Schleppenbach of the Nebraska Catholic Conference opposed the bill, saying studies indicate that improved access to contraceptives does not decrease teen pregnancy.

“We believe it would send a terrible message,” he said.

No one testified in support of the bill.

LB452, also sponsored by Conrad, would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to submit a state plan amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide medical assistance for family planning services for individuals whose earned income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Conrad said the state already provides family planning services under Medicaid, and that expanding eligibility could save the state almost $13 million a year.

“It is past time that we … expand eligibility for low-income women in our state,” she said.

Robin Summers, policy director for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, testified in support of LB452. Thirty-one states have expanded eligibility as allowed under federal law, she said, resulting in reduced rates of unplanned pregnancies and increased cost savings.

Carol Russell of the March of Dimes also testified in support of the bill, saying increased access to family planning services leads to healthier pregnancies and infants.

Russell cited a study of eligibility expansion in Rhode Island that showed a 50 percent reduction in short-interval pregnancies and a reduction in infant mortality. Short-interval pregnancies are a risk factor for preterm birth and a number of other negative outcomes, she said.

Schleppenbach testified against LB452, saying the studies relied upon by supporters of expanded eligibility are flawed. He said a CMS study shows that a majority of states that have expanded eligibility are not experiencing a reduction in unintended pregnancies.

The committee took no immediate action on either bill.

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