Some of the most relied upon services for families in our state are those provided by funding from the Title X program. The Title X Family Planning Program has been in place since Nixon introduced it and was passed into legislation in 1970 as a part of the Public Health Service Act. This program was designed specifically (and legally) to prioritize the needs of low-income and uninsured families.
Unsurprisingly, being low-income and under- or uninsured often go hand-in-hand. And in our state, we have more low-income families than most. The U.S. Census Bureau announced the number of West Virginians living in poverty as the fourth-highest rate in the nation in 2017, coming in at 19.1%. The national poverty rate that year was 12.3%.
Twenty-five percent of West Virginia’s children — one of our most vulnerable populations — lived in poverty in 2017. That’s an estimated 91,734 children who need our help to keep services in place to ensure their well-being; services that they may not otherwise be able to access.
For many of those low-income families, Title X is an essential resource. It served nearly 70,000 patients in 2017. Because of the program, individuals who went to Title X-funded facilities for care were able to access basic, preventative reproductive care. This included cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and wellness exams.
On behalf of those who rely upon these services — services provided at reduced or even no cost — it is crucial we support fully funding all Title X facilities without any conditions in West Virginia. Without these facilities, many in our state would not otherwise have access to vital health care services.
Beyond providing affordable care, Title X funded centers are often the only health facilities operating in West Virginia’s many rural communities. In 2015, there were 146 Title X health centers in West Virginia, including health department clinics, hospital-based providers, and community health centers. These locations regularly deliver life-saving preventative screenings and testing that would otherwise never reach our most rural populations.
In addition to the basic health care services, many of those served in these facilities struggle with substance abuse — an ever-worsening epidemic here in the Mountain State. In rural areas, Title X centers can alleviate barriers to much-needed health care access for those affected by the opioid crisis. These health care centers are uniquely positioned to connect those among us that struggle with substance abuse to behavioral health treatment and recovery support programs. Often times these clinics serve as the only medical point of contact for those facing abuse and addiction — especially in underserved rural communities.
One of the most crucial aspects of Title X funding is that it keeps healthcare affordable for those that need the most assistance. However, funding for Title X facilities has recently been threatened by a rule change allowed at the Department of Health and Human Resources that will control and limit the information that can be disseminated from these health care centers. This rule has the potential to result in the closing of many health care clinics, leaving low-income communities with limited health care options or no options at all.
Without these Title X clinics, not only would thousands of West Virginians lose access to life-saving affordable health care services and substance abuse assistance, but it would harm families by extension in other ways, as well. For instance, the closing of these facilities would mean a lack of access to health care professionals that can detect and treat opioid addiction.
What many don’t realize is that one of the leading causes of postpartum deaths in the United States is overdosing. According to 2017 data released by the WV Health Statistics Center, 909 people died of drug-induced overdoses that year, up from a previous all-time high of 887 in 2016. Title X clinics have been at the forefront of addressing issues that lead to these deaths, improving maternal mortality rates for expectant mothers that struggle with addiction. To prevent the delivery of these services at the pinnacle of the epidemic would be a tragedy for families all over the state.
West Virginians deserve policies that invest in the well being of families and in their right to affordable health care access, not other misguided policies that will likely yield exclusionary, if not outright dangerous, outcomes. Our members of Congress need to join the thousands of people, medical organizations, and other stakeholders in pushing back against this extreme rule and protecting Title X funding as it was originally introduced and intended to work.