Private foundations fund another year of Colorado's successful family planning program

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative is a public-health success story. With funds from an anonymous foundation, Title X family planning clinics serving low-income women were able to offer IUDs and other highly effective forms of contraception for free. Rates of teen pregnancy and abortion both plummeted. When the foundation funding came to an end as scheduled, though, the state's legislature refused to pick up the tab for this demonstrably successful program.

Now, reports Katie Kerwin McCrimmon of Health News Colorado, a group of foundations (11 are listed so far) has pledged funds to continue the progam through mid-2016. In the meantime, Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Larry Wolk will keep pushing for the public support that will make the program sustainable. Having the funds to allow it to continue in the meantime will allow the program's substantial momentum to keep building. McCrimmon reports:

In Jefferson County, Colorado’s fourth largest, health officials started creating waiting lists earlier this summer to be sure that they would have some IUDs on hand each month.

Kelly Conroy, nurse manager for clinic services for Jefferson County Public Health, said the program’s popularity is surging.

“The word is definitely getting out. We have a lot of patients who come in and specifically ask for the devices by name. A lot of it is word of mouth, friends and family. A friend will be on Mirena (an IUD). They will know which one they want — hormonal or non-hormonal. People are coming in way more educated,” Conroy said.

Since Conroy and her colleagues knew funding from the state was in jeopardy, they started hunting for funds elsewhere to be sure they could have IUDs and other devices on hand. They worked to bill insurance companies or Medicaid for devices they were implanting so they could recoup as much money as possible to pay for other devices. On average, she said, patients were having to wait about three weeks.

Now health officials should be able to stop creating a waiting list and provide devices for those who want them right away.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Conroy said. “We are a safety net for a lot of clients who are uninsured and underinsured. We don’t want to put any obstacles in their way. We certainly don’t want anyone to have an unintended pregnancy.

“Our ultimate goal is empowering not just women, but families with the ability to know that they can make the choice (to have a baby) when they’re ready,” Conroy said.

Colorado's success has inspired other states, McCrimmon notes. According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, at least 15 states are working on programs to improve access to IUDs or contraceptive implants. At the same time, Republicans in the US House of Representatives have proposed eliminating funding for the Title X program, which supports family-planning services for millions of clients each year, and some states are trying to cut off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive healthcare to millions of women. Some states recognize the importance of assuring that women of all income levels and insurance statuses have easy access to the full range of contraceptive options, while others seem determined to limit those options. Colorado has another year to decide which category it falls into.

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