Health reform must include reproductive care

As the debate over health-care reform continues, Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon is seeking to make sure that women's health care is kept front and center as a priority. It is paramount that women are not made worse off after health-care reform than they are today.

PPSO is represented at every health-care forum and town hall held by state and local officials. Access to health care, including preventive care, is a critical need for everyone, especially during these difficult economic times. A 2009 survey conducted for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women are delaying their annual exams as a result of the economic downturn.

PPSO is able to offer preventive care to low-income clients through the Family Planning Expansion Program and Title 10. Last year, PPSO at our eight local clinics performed 7,704 Pap tests, identifying 164 at-risk women, and we performed 8,500 breast exams.

Planned Parenthood health centers across the country perform nearly one million Pap tests, identifying 93,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer, and provided more than 850,000 breast exams. These tests are critical to women's health and to saving lives, and must be protected as a national health priority, especially in tough times.

A recent study found that one in four teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19 have a sexually transmitted disease. PPSO is working with the national office of Planned Parenthood, MTV, the Kaiser Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund to offer free STI testing and treatment for young men and women in all eight of our clinics.

Why should we pay attention to the impact of health-care reform on women? Because women currently pay far more for individual health care than men — on average, a staggering 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health-care costs. This is partly because women's reproductive health requires more routine visits with health-care providers for things like yearly Pap tests, mammograms, obstetric care and contraception.

For many women, reproductive health care represents their primary health-care need. Community providers such as Planned Parenthood offer an affordable, accessible place where women can speak with medical professionals about their health, get their routine tests and obtain prescription birth control. Our health centers are the gateway clinics from which women are referred to other providers for health issues that need further diagnosis or follow-up care, such as breast or cervical cancer.

Any serious health-care reform package must include the full range of women's reproductive health care, and must allow women to choose a community health-care provider for their care. Currently, around the country, one in four women receives contraception from a women's health center, as do one in six women seeking routine exams such as a Pap test or a pelvic exam. One third of women who need testing, treatment or counseling for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, do so at a community health center such as Planned Parenthood.

Access means not only the ability to afford health care, but making sure all needed services are included and that individuals can choose to receive care from a provider they trust. Community providers play a critical role in guaranteeing access to services. Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon has eight health centers in Southern Oregon, serving more than 30,000 women, men and teens each year, including thousands of our community's most vulnerable residents.

Women's health care must be a priority in health-care reform. We must ensure that all women have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, and women must be able to continue utilizing their community health provider for these vital services. Women cannot be worse off after health-care reform than they are today.

Paul Robinson is community relations director for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon.

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