Emerson discusses family planning, funding at Public Health Center

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Family planning, disaster preparedness and funding were all topics of conversation when Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, visited the Cape Girardeau Public Health Center Wednesday.

The center has an annual budget of just over $2 million and provides health services such as immunizations, WIC food aid and pregnancy testing. It is also one of the community first responders charged with disaster preparedness.

Director Charlotte Craig said one recent development has hurt the clinic's ability to provide some services. Craig said until four months ago the center regularly secured orders of oral contraceptives from an organization called Missouri Family Health Council. These birth control pills were then distributed to uninsured patients for a price just over manufacturer's cost.

Not federally funded

But in April, Craig said, the state organization informed her staff it could no longer provide the medication. Because the public health center is not directly federally funded it is not eligible for the discounted drugs. This restriction has always been in place, but Craig said her clinic has received the drugs for years.

"It's really going to affect us, because right now our gals just can't afford it," Craig said. She believes the change has affected 20 county health departments statewide.

Public nurse Jari Southard gave examples of two major oral contraceptives that are now effectively priced out of reach of her patients. One contraceptive the clinic previously bought at 12 cents per prescription cycle now costs $26.80, and another the clinic previously bought at 47 cents per cycle has risen to $45.15.

Emerson said there may be ways to provide this service to clinics are not "Title X," or federally funded. "This is something we may have to fix legislatively, but let's see what our options are, because if there is a way to do it administratively, that would be a lot easier," Emerson said.

The center reported 506 visits from women last year seeking health treatment. The East Missouri Action Agency on Linden Street is federally funded and provides similar services to uninsured women.

Craig said she will work hard to continue providing the contraceptives at low costs. "I will come and beat on whatever door it takes and testify or give you ideas, because this really will have a big ripple effect," she said.

In March the Missouri House of Representatives voted to prohibit county health clinics from using state money for contraceptives. The amendment to the annual appropriations bill was later deleted by the Senate.

Another topic discussed during Emerson's visit was the formation of a local Medical Reserve Corps unit. The unit, like others around the country, would be made up of volunteers who have health-care training. These men and women are asked to treat victims in the event of a disaster. The MRC has 465 units nationwide and is sponsored by the U.S. Surgeon General's office.

Saving 'mass confusion'

"We want to conduct an inventory of all those people we could call in the event of an emergency, but we're also going to solicit people and beat the bushes," Craig said. "Because in any event that is big enough to be called a disaster, your medical resources are already spent."

Emerson said she will gladly endorse the project and hopes to be present at kick-off ceremony tentatively scheduled for October. "If this component is organized and if you have your volunteer organization in place then it's going to save mass confusion later on," she said.

The Public Health Center receives 16 percent of its funding from the federal government. This funding, though, is indirect because it is allocated by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Craig said the DHSS funding has shrunk by a total of $150,000 over the past five years. She would like to see this trend reversed. DHSS records confirm the drop.

"When the state gets cut, we get cut," Craig said. Emerson said she was not immediately familiar with the figures but would look into it.


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