Karen Ford Manza, CEO, Arizona Family Planning Council/Special to The Explorer

Recent changes in Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System program for low-income families made people think basic preventive health care for women was being cut. It isn’t. For now, AHCCCS continues to cover family planning services for women earning up to 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines. However, misinformation created a drop in important well-women visits, and the health of women and families in Tucson hangs in the balance. Our collective foresight is the only way through.

AHCCCS is a vital source of support for women’s health services, as poor, working women make up 70 percent of the adult Medicaid program in Arizona. While changes in benefits weren’t as bad as feared, basic services may still suffer debilitating drops in funding. Recent articles suggest policymakers may play the “how low can you go” game, lowering eligibility levels to compensate for a billion dollar budget shortfall. This means single women earning $6.73 per hour may no longer be eligible to receive critical health care services through AHCCCS.

Like most Americans, the Arizona Family Planning Council believes that access to health care is essential to a woman’s good health. Failure to invest in women’s health, including preventive and reproductive health screenings, affects individuals, children, families and employers. Annual exams are critical to maintaining a woman’s health before, after and between pregnancies, yet in this economy, many women are skipping their annual exams because of cost.

Research shows that investing $1 in reproductive healthcare saves taxpayers $3.74. Yet there is discussion of Arizona foregoing $7.5 billion in annual federal matching funds and significantly cutting eligibility for AHCCCS to reduce spending by about $1 billion.

Sacrificing basic health care for low-income women and families won’t fix the problem. People will still need services and hospitalization, but how will Arizona pay for these services without federal reimbursement?

Annual physical exams are often the only healthcare many low-income women receive. These visits often include screenings for breast and cervical cancer, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraceptive counseling, education and supplies. A family planning appointment is often a referral point for other important services: high blood pressure management, diabetes management, supplemental nutrition assistance program, immunizations, and other parenting resources. These services are available at AFPC-supported health centers, including seven local Tucson clinics supported by the Pima County Health Department.

At AFPC-supported health centers, we work with each woman on her “reproductive life plan” – her goals for education, work, financial independence, relationships and marriage, whether she wants to have a child now, later or ever. Without such planning, numbers of unintended pregnancies go up, bringing adverse health impacts for both mother and baby. Low birth-weight and infant mortality are expensive outcomes that often must be covered by taxpayers. By planning for a family’s economic and emotional health, these costs could be reduced.

The Arizona Family Planning Council program is affordable and available statewide. Inability to pay is never a barrier to service. Reproductive health is important. Please encourage the women in your life to take care of themselves and urge your elected leaders to continue supporting basic healthcare services. To learn more, please visit www.azfpc.org or call 888-272-5652.

Karen Ford Manza, CEO, Arizona Family Planning Council

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