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The Downside Of Planned Parenthood Leaving The Federal Title X Program

NOEL KING, HOST:

Planned Parenthood has left a federal government program called Title X. Title X gives money for family planning to clinics that serve low-income communities across this country. Planned Parenthood, of course, is one of the country's leading providers of reproductive health care like STD testing, birth control, routine screenings and abortions. But a rule change bars health providers from using Title X funds if they perform, talk about or refer patients for abortions, with only a few exceptions. That's what's led to this split.

Dr. Sarah Traxler is chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood's North Central States. That covers Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska. She's on the line from Minneapolis. Good morning, Dr. Traxler.

SARAH TRAXLER: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So Planned Parenthood said it serves around 40% of Title X patients, or around 1.5 million people. How many of them are in your area?

TRAXLER: So actually, in Minnesota, we see a higher number of that. About 90% of Title X patients are served by Planned Parenthood.

KING: Wow.

TRAXLER: And so we see quite a few of our patients through our Title X program.

KING: Planned Parenthood will no longer be getting Title X funds. How much of your budget was coming from this form of funding?

TRAXLER: A small percentage of our budget was coming from this funding, but it does actually serve about 53,000 patients in Minnesota and about 14,000 patients in Iowa. So it's a pretty big impact.

KING: OK. If it's a small percentage, though, does that mean you're not as worried as you might have been if it was a lot of money?

TRAXLER: Oh, no. We're still worried because we believe that not taking - not having access to this funding will negatively impact our patients.

KING: All right. So you obviously deal with a lot of patients. And many of them, given where you are in the country, are in rural areas. How will this affect them?

TRAXLER: Well, I think one of the things that we see throughout the country is that rural areas tend to be underserved at baseline. And we see a lack of providers. We see folks in those areas who are underinsured or uninsured. And Planned Parenthood and the Title X clinics that we have out in our rural areas are often the only provider available to these patients, so patients who are unable to access Title X funds in those rural areas will be significantly impacted.

KING: And what does that mean - they'll just have to drive much, much longer distances to find care?

TRAXLER: They may have to drive further to get their birth control or their STI testing. I mean, we see that with abortion specifically. We see people who drive miles to access abortion. We may see people have to drive miles to access the birth control that they want.

KING: Let's talk about what the administration is saying about this. Secretary Alex Azar of the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that Title X grantees like Planned Parenthood knew the rules before they accepted the funding and that organizations are now, quote, "abandoning their obligations to serve their patients under the program." What do you think about that statement?

TRAXLER: Well, I would say that our obligation really is to serve our patients with accurate, reliable information and that the Trump administration should not bully providers to compromise health care for grant funding.

KING: I know this is a sensitive question. But given that most of the care that Planned Parenthood provides is not abortions, is there an argument that you shouldn't reject funding that really helps people get what they need?

TRAXLER: I don't think that there is an argument. I think one of the things that we really need to think about is that Planned Parenthood has been around for over a hundred years. We are known as a national expert that provides our patients with accurate, reliable sexual and reproductive health care. Our patients really trust us to give them the information that they're seeking that is accurate and true. So I believe that we need to hold to that, that submitting to this gag rule is unethical and dangerous.

KING: And just briefly, do you have a sense of where the money will come from if it's not coming from Title X?

TRAXLER: I think we have a host of supporters and philanthropists who will support us. I also know that in some states, we're organizing insurance navigators who can help patients who are uninsured or underinsured get enrolled in programs, in the exchange, in the Affordable Care Act. There are ways forward.

KING: Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in the North Central States. Thank you so much.

TRAXLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.