A proposed federal rule change that could cause Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to lose more than $700,000 in taxpayer money may benefit other health care centers throughout Vermont.
The Title X family planning program aims to assist low-income Americans with family planning health care needs. To be eligible for these funds, centers must offer services like birth control, breast cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease testing and women’s health exams. Under federal law, however, no federal funds may be used for abortions.
Typical grantees of the program include state and local health departments, university health centers, hospitals, community health centers, nonprofit entities and, potentially under the Trump administration, crisis pregnancy centers.
In Vermont, Planned Parenthood is currently the only recipient of Title X funding.
However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposal in May that could change that. The proposal states that there must be a clear financial and physical separation between Title X funded programs and facilities where abortion is a method of family planning.
If adopted, the rule change could strip Vermont’s Planned Parenthood locations of $744,231 of grant funding — nearly all Title X funding appropriated to the state of Vermont each year.
Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told True North the proposal would significantly change the program. She said there are a total of 10 Planned Parenthood centers in Vermont that have been eligible to receive funding for many years due to the geographic coverage they offer.
“One of the requirements of the Title X program is geographic distribution of Title X funds,” Leriche said. “It’s been a requirement that the funds be used in underserved areas of the state and have geographic distribution in order to provide care throughout the state.”
Planned Parenthood provides services statewide, which differentiates it from a health care center that may provide only county-wide coverage. Leriche added that the Title X funds Planned Parenthood receives are strictly used for its non-abortion health care services.
“I want to just make it clear that no federal funds can go towards abortion,” she said. “We already do our accounting for all of our health centers to make sure that we separate out federal funds to be sure we’re not using them for abortion care.”
But a Planned Parenthood loss stemming from Title X rule changes could be a gain for other health organizations. In Vermont, eight federally qualified health care centers, each with multiple satellite service locations, could receive the funding.
The eight health centers include Community Health Centers of Burlington (Chittenden County), Northern Counties Health Care (Caledonia, Orleans, and Essex Counties), Northern Tier Center for Health (Grand Isle and Franklin Counties), Community Health Centers of Lamoille Valley (Lamoille County), Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region (Rutland County), The Health Center (Washington County), Springfield Medical Care Systems (Windsor County), and Little Rivers Health Care (Orange County).
The satellite locations of these centers add up to about 48 health care locations that serve more than 120,000 Vermonters annually. The centers, all members of the Bi-State Primary Care Association, would be eligible to apply for funding that Planned Parenthood may lose.
“The other health care providers in the state — including federally qualified healthcare centers like OB GYN offices, hospitals, primary care — all of these providers offer the same kinds of services,” Leriche said.
She said if the proposed Title X rule change is implemented, any health care provider who does abortions would have to provide a physically separate space where they are performed, or else lose funding.
But Vermont Community Health Centers do not perform abortions. Even so, none of them are currently funded by Title X.
Mary Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life, doesn’t think these other medical centers will pursue the funds even if they are made available.
“They (Planned Parenthood) have an incredible private fundraising mechanism, so they get a lot of money and they are very powerful at election time,” she said. “(The health centers) are not gonna apply as long as Planned Parenthood has that grip on the money — it just kind of automatically goes to them.”
Beerworth said Planned Parenthood won’t lose any of its current funding if it complies with the proposed rule, which would mean separating abortion services from family planning services physically.
She added that the original Title X program established in 1976 clearly stated that abortions were not considered family planning.
“Planned Parenthood calls it a gag rule, but it’s just a separation of services,” she said. “They can do that –– they have the money for that –– and comply with the rules to keep the money or stop doing abortions.”
While Beerworth thinks community health care centers have not applied for Title X money because Planned Parenthood has “a monopoly” on the funds, she also said the centers might step up and claim the funds if they become available.
“The state also gives $300,000 to Planned Parenthood annually, so if they are defunded because they won’t change their ways, then the Health Department will have to make this available,” Beerworth said. “And that’s when they would step up. I just dont think you’re gonna see them yet.”
She added that it would be difficult for Planned Parenthood to lose all funding in Vermont, and there would have to be doctors and nurses willing to offer the full range of services to be eligible for Title X funding.
Susan Noon, director of marketing and development for the Bi-State Primary Care Association, told True North that it’s too early to say if the group will pursue Title X funding since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule change is in the proposal stage.
“It’s not until that point that applications are considered by qualified entities,” Noon said. “Since we’re a long way off from the final rule, there are no decisions to be made at this time.”
Briana Bocelli is a freelance reporter for True North Reports.