DES MOINES, Iowa — A state agency is collecting data to better understand whether the Iowa Legislature’s move to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers is resulting in less access to reproductive health care.
The Iowa Department of Human Services has been compiling data on its state-run family planning program since it went into effect in July, according to agency officials who spoke to lawmakers at the Capitol this month.
The analysis follows a decision by the Legislature’s Republican majority to forgo federal funding and instead spend about $3.1 million in state money on a family planning program that excludes clinics affiliated with abortion services. Lawmakers indicated the move was aimed at denying government funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Even before the state’s actions, no federal or state dollars were spent on abortions in Iowa.
A new workgroup will meet within weeks to figure out how to interpret the information the agency gathers, said Wendy Rickman, a top DHS administrator.
Rickman said officials want to monitor the number of health providers in the new program and who they’re serving. She added that the intent is for the group “to come to some consensus on what we’re going to measure going forward. So that when we come back to you next session we will have a dashboard upon which everybody has agreed, from a data perspective. So we’re not arguing about this set of data or that set of data.”
The data will be a key factor in figuring out whether the funding cut to Planned Parenthood and other groups will result in fewer Iowans receiving reproductive health care services like birth control, pregnancy testing and health screenings.
After the loss of the federal Medicaid money, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland closed four of its 12 Iowa clinics. That in turn has led some local health officials to consider opening new facilities to cover service gaps.
Jodi Tomlonovic, executive director of the nonprofit Family Planning Council of Iowa, said it’s important that state officials not only measure how many health care providers are enrolled in the new program, but which reproductive health care services are being utilized.
The council, which will be part of the workgroup, contracts with health care entities like Planned Parenthood for family planning services, such as contraception and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
Tomlonovic said officials should know, for example, details such as how many people are using different forms of birth control and whether there’s a drop or spike over time. Tomlonovic said she wants to collect data “that shows truly what the impact of this is.”
Others in the data workgroup will include representatives from DHS, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the anti-abortion group Iowa Right to Life. It’s unclear when any of the collected data will be available to the public.
In order to exclude groups that provide abortions, Iowa lawmakers had to give up millions in Medicaid money because federal rules prevent states from restricting provider choice. Under the old Medicaid-funded family planning program in Iowa, the state spent about $300,000 annually as part of the low end of a 90/10 match. GOP lawmakers argue the increased expenditure was a priority despite budget constraints that continue to plague the state.
Only two other states — Texas and Missouri — have agreed to give up federal money to launch such state-run programs, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights.
Data isn’t available yet on the impact of the move in Missouri since it’s only been in effect for several months. The Texas Legislature agreed to give up funding in 2011, and recent data showed that 30,000 fewer women were served in the state-run family program since the changes.
Texas is now in the midst of trying to get federal dollars restored while still avoiding funding to Planned Parenthood. Other states are trying to challenge Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.
In Iowa, the June closure of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Burlington has prompted officials in Des Moines County to consider seeking federal funding to open a new clinic for reproductive health services. The Planned Parenthood clinic had served about 2,000 patients annually.
Christa Poggemiller, public health administrator for Des Moines County Public Health, said the area has access to reproductive health care providers under the new family planning program. But she explained those facilities may have services scattered across several locations and require appointments. The new clinic would have walk-in services and offer a range of services previously available at Planned Parenthood.
“With Planned Parenthood closing, that caused a gap in health care services for the community, and that’s why the board of health is getting involved to fill those gaps in health care,” she said.