Health care services for low-income women, including more than 800 in Cape Girardeau, could be eliminated under a continuing budget resolution the U.S. Senate will consider next week.
The measure, already passed by the House, eliminates federal funding for family planning programs, including the Women's Wellness Center operated by the East Missouri Action Agency on Linden Street.
"That would totally shut us down," said Angel Prather, family planning director for the East Missouri Action Agency.
In 2010, the agency received $268,547 in Title X family planning funds. That covers about 90 percent of the costs of providing women's health services in the agency's eight-county service area, Prather said.
Last year more than 3,435 women in the agency's eight-county coverage area were served at the agency's five clinics. The area covers Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Iron, Madison, Perry, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Washington counties.
At the Cape Girardeau clinic, more than 837 women were served during 1,436 visits in 2010 for cancer screenings, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy tests and contraceptives, Prather said. About 65 percent of these women were below 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which qualified them for free services.
"Doctors don't want these patients," Prather said. "They walk in without a purse, without a way to pay."
Only 18 percent of clients served by the women's health centers are on Medicaid, Prather said.
"If we have to close, that 18 percent can go see another provider if they will accept them, but the other 73 percent with no Medicaid and no money, their problems will only get worse," Prather said.
Through its screening programs for breast and cervical cancer, the wellness centers have detected a number of cases and referred those patients for additional treatments. In 2010, 799 breast exams were performed along with 408 cervical cancer tests, 998 STD tests and 26 HIV tests.
Clients who are above 100 percent of poverty are charged based on a sliding fee scale from $20 to $80 per visit according to their family size and income level, Prather said. Birth control pills start at $10 per pack.
By law, Title X funds may not be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning, and the East Missouri Action Agency does not perform them. It does provide contraceptives.
"We try to avoid abortions in every way we can. We're doing our best to prevent them every day. Our goal is to prevent unwanted pregnancies," Prather said.
The continuing budget resolution passed by the House Feb. 19 contains cuts totaling more than $61 billion to many other programs in addition to eliminating Title X funding.
"We all have to work at making cuts in the federal budget. But as a senator who believes contraception services must be available to all women, these cuts make no sense. These cuts will cause more abortions, not prevent them," Sen. Claire McCaskill said in a statement Thursday.
Cuts to Title X funding contained in the continuing resolution, which may or may not become law, reflect tough funding decisions Congress must make in this budgetary climate, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said.
"Programs which supplement organizations [that provide family planning] where one of the things they make available is abortion devices, are in a controversial area where I think cuts in taxpayer funding are justifiable," Emerson said Thursday. "I do strongly believe that there should be restrictions on federal funding for abortion in order to protect the conscience of taxpayers."
The Senate is expected to take up the measure when it returns from recess Monday.
If federal funding for the women's wellness program is eliminated, not only will women be without the health care they need, but the program's 10 staff members will also be out of a job, Prather said. In addition to operating clinics, the East Missouri Action Agency also has subcontracts with six health departments to provide women's health care. Including these sites, 37 employees total could be eliminated if funding is cut.
1111 Linden St., Cape Girardeau, MO