At a town hall on March 15, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price attempted to defend the Republicans’ American Health Care Act against questions from a cancer survivor, a family physician, and Katie Needle, whose question about defunding Planned Parenthood has since gone viral.
Needle, who described herself as a Medicaid enrollee and Planned Parenthood patient, asked: “How do you expect the millions of low-income women nationwide who depend on Planned Parenthood for these vital human services, basic needs, to access these things if Planned Parenthood is defunded?”
Planned Parenthood, the biggest network provider of women’s health services, reportedly sees 2.5 million patients every year. In 2012, 79 percent of Planned Parenthood patients had incomes at or less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Planned Parenthood provides an array of vital health services for women,” Needle explained to Price, “and the majority of their patients are on Medicaid.” Expanded by the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is a social program that provides health insurance to low-income individuals and families, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Many of Planned Parenthood’s services, including birth control and cancer screenings, are covered for free by Medicaid.
Under the new American Health Care Act, Medicaid enrollees would be barred from seeking out “prohibited entities” that provide abortions “other than those related to rape, incest, or life-endangerment situations.”
In response to Needle’s question, Price said: “The fact of the matter is that the American people have for decades said that they didn’t want their tax dollars, their federal tax dollars to be used for the provision of abortion services.”
As many critics were quick to point out, federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortions. Since the Hyde amendment was passed in 1976, abortion has been excluded from federal funding, including Medicaid coverage. In fact, most of the $500 million in government funding that Planned Parenthood receives each year pays for STI testing and treatment.
Though the American Health Care Act promises to pour money into community health centers that offer some of Planned Parenthood’s services, opponents of the plan argue that low-income women will still bear the burden of these cutbacks. Joseph E. Potter, director of Texas Policy Evaluation Project, told The New York Times that defunding Planned Parenthood made it harder to find “a conveniently located provider with available appointments and affordable fees.”
“We've already seen in Texas that cutting access to Planned Parenthood means women have less access to health care,” Needle said in the lead-up to her question. “More women's health centers didn't just magically appear.”