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Health care savings–at what cost?

on Jun 24, 2011 | STDs/STIs Sexual Health | 1 comments

A recent piece in the Huffington Post profiled a young man named Greg Hartman. While Hartman was working his way through college in Manitowoc, WI, he learned that a close friend had been infected with hepatitis C. Hartman thought about getting tested as himself, but with his restaurant job only pulling in about $150 a week, he couldn’t afford the $300 for testing. Instead, he went to the University of Wisconsin’s campus health center and applied for BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s Medicaid-funded family planning program, which reimburses low-income individuals for preventative reproductive health needs, such as STI testing and birth control. Hartman was then able to get tested for both hepatitis C and HIV, and tested positive for the former. Without affordable medical coverage like BadgerCare, Hartman notes, he wouldn’t have bothered to get tested.

But proposed changed to BadgerCare could take this resource away from men like Hartman, and possible put Wisconsin’s federal funding for family planning at risk.Suggested “cost-cutting” changes include dropping men from the program entirely and requiring parental consent for minors who wish to be on birth control. Rather than cutting costs, though, eliminating preventive services for men and providing new barriers for young women can only cost the state. The anticipated rise in STIs, unintended pregnancies, and cases of undetected and untreated cervical and breast cancer could end up costing the state far more than it would save in BadgerCare cuts.

There are other potential financial (and public health) consequences as well. Experts have warned that if this new proposed budget passes, the state of Wisconsin could lose federal family planning funds, as requesting a waiver to remove men from a Medicaid program would prompt a federal review.

It is illogical to think that cutting men from the program or requiring parental consent for birth control will decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STIs. According to Teri Hyuck, President of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, BadgerCare saves Wisconsin at least $140 million each year. In a statement about the proposed changes, Huyck says, “It is greatly disturbing to me that some politicians’ personal beliefs are trumping our shared responsibility to make sure women and men have access to preventive reproductive health care, which is not only essential for their own lives, but also a cost-saver for all Wisconsin taxpayers.” Certainly the financial and public health costs of these budget cuts will far surpass any “savings” they hope to achieve.

–Kristin





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