No Windfall Likely For Family Planning Clinics

Gov. Ritter’s plan to restore the family planning funds cut under Bill Owens might be well-intentioned, but clinics probably won’t see a dime unless more money is added to the pot.

An “immediate step will be to restore the eligibility requirements for state funding for pregnancy prevention and family planning programs,” Ritter said last week in his State of the State address.

The requirements he was referring to were implemented in 1999 by Gov. Owens and then-state health director Jane Norton. The Colorado Constitution says taxpayer money cannot be used to fund abortions either directly or indirectly. Under Norton’s strict interpretation, state money was denied to family planning clinics providing abortions even if the clinics could prove none of the money would be used for abortion services. In an effort to comply, Planned Parenthood set up a separate business for abortion services, but the organization was still denied state money. The health department said clinics providing abortions were being charged below-market rent. A report from the state auditor later criticized the health department’s actions, saying rules were not applied consistently.

State family planning funds are distributed through Title X (of the Public Health Service Act), a federal program that provides family planning money to clinics and hospitals that serve low-income, uninsured and under-insured women. Until the 1999 rule change, many Colorado clinics received Title X dollars from both the state and federal governments. Afterwards, Planned Parenthood and Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center lost the state portion. Susan Levy, director of BVWHC, said her clinic was denied $45,000 a year in state money.

Now, Ritter says he wants to restore the money. But, Levy said, simply reversing the 1999 requirements won’t do much good. If BVWHC re-qualified for state Title X money, the clinic would probably receive less federal money.

“I do not expect that it would necessarily result in any more allocation, just a redistribution of what is already allocated,” Levy said.

Despite the hullabaloo caused by people such as Archbishop Charles Chaput, state money probably won’t land in Planned Parenthood’s hands, either. Even if Ritter lifts the restrictions, Planned Parenthood isn’t likely to reapply, said spokeswoman Kate Horle.

“We would have to re-segregate our business, and that’s a very expensive proposition,” she said. 

Horle said Planned Parenthood was also reluctant to take a chunk of the money that other clinics have been relying on.

Besides, she said, “We could apply for these funds and we might not even get them because it is a competitive process.” 

Although easing the qualification requirements probably won’t help either of their clinics, both Levy and Horle said Ritter is on the right track. They both said they hope more state money overall might be allocated to family planning services.

“Of course, what really matters is that he recognizes that the best way to reduce the abortion rate is to increase access to family planning,” Horle said.