Investments in the wellbeing of women are critical to any serious strategy to address inequality or reduce poverty. And investing in the full spectrum of women’s health services in particular is an important step toward strengthening the economic security of women and families.
The good news is Washington state has made significant progress in expanding health care access for women and in reducing unintended pregnancies. Under the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured women in Washington state has dropped to historic lows. And as the KIDS COUNT Data Center shows, Washington’s teen birth rate has fallen from 25 teen births per thousand in 2011 to 18 teen births per thousand in 2015. King County has the second lowest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Expanding health care and reducing unintended pregnancies is good for women and families, and it’s also cost effective for states.
However, this progress is being threatened. Recent federal and state proposals would pay for tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of investments that support women and communities. In the next few weeks, we anticipate the release of the 2018 federal budget and a compromise 2017-2019 state budget, not to mention the U.S. Senate’s health care bill. Elected leaders must ensure legislation invests in programs that help promote economic security for women and families.
Washington’s women face a multitude of threats from federal proposals, ranging from the repeal the Affordable Care Act to President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal to the possibility of new regulations affecting birth control from his administration. Especially when combined with deep cuts to federal programs that disproportionately serve women and children – like housing and energy assistance, job training, and hunger relief – these cuts to women’s heath are a recipe for increased economic insecurity. Federal proposals include:
- Cutting Medicaid – Federal proposals to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and make deep cuts to Medicaid would jeopardize health care for nearly one million women in Washington state (see graph below). In fact, women make up a majority of Medicaid beneficiaries and therefore face a disproportionate burden of proposed cuts to the program. Medicaid is a key support for women on multiple fronts: Working women who don’t have employer-sponsored coverage are able to get health insurance coverage through the Medicaid expansion; women of reproductive age rely on Medicaid for family-planning and maternity care services (importantly, Medicaid provides health care for nearly half of all pregnant women nationwide); and older women and women with disabilities are the primary users of Medicaid long-term services and supports. In addition, Medicaid serves women of all races and ethnicities in Washington.
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- Defunding Planned Parenthood – Congressional Republicans have put forward multiple proposals to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal and state funds through the Medicaid program and to allow states to exclude them from the Title X family-planning program. These funds are currently used to provide family-planning and a wide range of critical health care services like cancer screenings to more than 98,000 low-income women and men at 32 health care centers in Washington state. Several of Washington’s Planned Parenthood clinics are the only clinic in their county that offers the full range of contraceptive health services, including longer-acting methods like intrauterine devices that are the most effective at preventing pregnancy. Defunding Planned Parenthood would jeopardize health care for thousands of low-income women in Washington state and increase economic insecurity as a result of unplanned pregnancies.
- Reducing coverage for newborn and maternity care and birth control – The Affordable Care Act repeal legislation from House Republicans removes the requirement for publicly funded health insurance to cover the full range of health care services, including newborn and maternity care. In addition, the Trump administration is considering rule-making that would remove the requirement for insurers to provide copay-free birth control. Both of these changes would mean that women who have health insurance coverage would have to pay more money out of pocket to get their health care needs met.
Washington state legislators are continuing to negotiate the 2017-2019 biennial state budget in order to avoid a state government shutdown on July 1, 2017. This year, budget writers have an opportunity to clean up the tax code to make historic investments in ensuring every child in Washington has access to quality public education. However, the Senate Republicans’ approach is largely to protect tax breaks for wealthy special interests and fund investments in schools at the expense of other important priorities like child care and job training for low-income parents.
The State Senate’s proposals would also reduce state family-planning funding. On top of cuts being proposed at the federal level, state Senate Republicans propose a 10 percent reduction to state funds that provide family-planning services, which would result in reduced access to women’s health services.
Especially with federal threats looming, Washington state leaders should be doing everything possible to protect women and build on the progress that has been made in our state.
Economic security and women’s health are fundamentally intertwined. If we want to have an economy that works for everyone, we simply can’t ignore women’s health. As federal and state policymakers develop new budget proposals, they must focus on advancing economic security by investing in the full spectrum of women’s health services.