Health care clinics that serve low-income women are a critical resource for many communities. In particular, family planning clinics that receive federal support through the Title X program not only care for nearly four million people each year – they are often women’s only source of health care. For low-income women at risk of heart disease, they can provide critical preventive care and help women understand their risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Because these clinics are so important to women’s health, WomenHeart is working to ensure that they continue to offer high quality preventive care. Unfortunately, new federal regulations set to take affect this summer broaden the scope of which entities are eligible to receive Title X funds, opening the door to those who are not licensed medical providers. The new regulations devalue evidence-based, medically accurate health care and conflict with established Medicare/ Medicaid criteria for qualified providers, thus decreasing low-income women’s access to quality health care.
A 2016 study revealed that six in 10 (60%) women receiving Title X services reported that the site where they were seeking care had been their only source of broader health care over the previous year. Fortunately, Title X providers offer high quality health care beyond contraception and family planning to include preventive services. Title X clinical recommendations include having providers screen for medical history, take patients’ height, weight, BMI, and blood pressure, and screen for Type 2 diabetes in asymptomatic patients with sustained high blood pressure. Medically trained health care providers can use these tests to screen for the potential of heart disease.
Unfortunately, the new regulations do not make clear that Title X grantees must follow those clinical recommendations. There is now the possibility that patients will not be properly screened for other medical conditions – or not screened at all – and there is a greater chance that they will never be referred for follow-up care.
WomenHeart submitted comments expressing our concern about these regulations last summer when they were first proposed. More recently, there have been various lawsuits trying to keep the regulations from taking effect. WomenHeart signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief (amicus brief) with several other organizations to express concern about the regulations’ impact on women’s access to health care.