Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood, 834 S. Main St., as shown on Friday. A measure supported by House Speaker Paul Ryan would block Medicaid dollars from going to Planned Parenthood.

MARK SCHAAF, mark.schaaf@journaltimes.com

RACINE — The debate over Planned Parenthood funding could have big ramifications in Racine.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who represents Racine County in Congress, is pushing a measure to block Medicaid dollars from Planned Parenthood. He believes that money should instead be redirected to federally qualified health clinics, which he argues provide the same services for women without the controversy of Planned Parenthood.

Racine, however, has no federally qualified health clinics.

And while Planned Parenthood funding is politically charged because of the organization’s abortion services, no such procedures are performed at Racine’s Planned Parenthood facility.

The organization says its clinic at 834 S. Main St., serves about 2,500 patients per year. Medicaid dollars support access to preventive and diagnostic services like birth control, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, well woman exams and health counseling, the group says.

Advocates fear Racine-area health care providers could not absorb a large number of patients losing services at Planned Parenthood. The city’s last federally qualified health center, Racine Community Health Center, 2405 Northwestern Ave., closed in 2015, and the number of places that accept Medicaid is limited.

About 80 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are eligible for Medicaid, which is geared toward low-income residents.

“I fear what will happen is that it’s going to have a lot of women just not get their annual care that they need,” said Alison Sergio, executive director of the Racine Health Care Network, 904 State St., which provides services to residents with no insurance and limited income.

“Regardless of how you fall on the issue, I do believe that it’s really going to cause a gap in services in this community.”

Part of ACA repeal

Ryan says the measure — which many refer to as “defunding” Planned Parenthood — would be part of a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act.

While no federally qualified health centers exist in Racine County, overall there are more of those facilities than Planned Parenthood, Ryan has noted.

The state Department of Health Services lists 57 federally qualified health centers in the state (though the list is from 2015 and includes the now-closed Racine Community Health Center), while Planned Parenthood has 21 clinics in Wisconsin.

Federally qualified health clinics are outpatient clinics that must meet certain criteria, like serving an underserved population and offering a sliding fee scale.

“Our goal is making sure women get the kind of care they need and we believe that can best be achieved by putting money into community health centers, which provide similar services as Planned Parenthood but vastly outnumber them,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

Supporters of the measure also reject the idea that Planned Parenthood will simply disappear if the measure passes, noting the organization just won’t receive federal funds.

But Iris Riis, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said blocking the organization from receiving Medicaid reimbursements would “decimate” its ability to provide health care. The group receives about $11 million per year in Medicaid reimbursements statewide, she said.

“Speaker Ryan’s proposal would have a devastating impact on health care across Wisconsin, especially in his own backyard,” Riis said. “Medicaid patients who depend on Planned Parenthood would lose their provider, and many would have no other provider to turn to, putting them at risk for undiagnosed cancers, STDs, unintended pregnancy and the poor health outcomes.”

Heavily political

It’s already the case that no federal dollars can be used for abortions, though some argue that by subsidizing Planned Parenthood, public money indirectly supports abortion.

But state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said abortion rights is not the issue at local clinics like Racine, since it does not provide those services.

“It’s really about taking away health care of thousands of Wisconsinites who have nothing to do with the debate over a woman’s right to choose,” Mason said.

At a Jan. 26 press conference in the state Capitol, Mason led a group of Democrats calling on Ryan to reverse his stance on Planned Parenthood. In a letter to Ryan, Democrats said past state legislation that cut funding to Planned Parenthood forced the closure of five rural clinics. But no new providers filled the void, leaving many with nowhere to go, they said.

Advocates fear that scenario would play out in Racine. The Racine Health Department has some overlap in services with Planned Parenthood, like STD testing, but Planned Parenthood is one of the few providers in the county that can offer comprehensive reproductive health services for Medicaid patients, said Dottie-Kay Bowersox, the city’s public health administrator.

Developing a communitywide solution if Planned Parenthood patients lose services would be no easy task given the politics involved and complexities of Medicaid reimbursement, officials said.

Racine County officials declined comment.

“The fact that we’re not just talking about health care in general, we’re talking about a certain kind of health care that’s tied to a politically charged (issue),” Sergio said, “that makes it even more difficult.”

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