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HHS Spending $800K on Studies to Help Family Planning Clinics Survive Obamacare

7:01 AM, Apr 8, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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Despite the Obama administration's insistence that everyone -- the government, insurance companies, doctors, medical providers, and consumers -- will reap benefits from Obamacare, a recent grant proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that the agency does have concerns about the ongoing financial viability of one player in the health care market: so-called family planning centers.

HHS intends to spend up to $800,000 to fund studies to "conduct data analysis and related research and evaluation on the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Title X funded family planning centers." At least part of the concern centers on the ACA's provision that allows those 26 and under to stay on their parents' insurance, and how confidentiality considerations may impact the ability of Title X centers to cover their costs.

The Title X program, which began in 1970 as part of the Public Service Health Act, is "the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services."  Included are contraceptives, breast and cervical cancer screening, pregnancy testing, screening/treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV testing. Although Title X funds may not be used for abortion, many Title X centers provide abortions using funds from other sources. For instance, Planned Parenthood clinics perform over 300,000 abortions each year, and that organization is the only Title X provider actually listed by name on HHS's Title X website home page:

Services are provided through state, county, and local health departments; community health centers; Planned Parenthood centers; and hospital-based, school-based, faith-based, other private nonprofits.

The studies that HHS's Orwellian-sounding office of population affairs is soliciting fall into two categories. The first seeks to assess the national impact, primarily financial, of Obamacare on Title X centers. The second seeks a qualitative analysis on the impact of the Title X centers providing confidential services. Preserving confidentiality for Title X clients can hurt the centers' ability to be reimbursed for services due to the reporting requirements of state laws and regulations, as well as insurance company rules.  HHS is hoping to acquire case studies on how various Title X centers have managed to overcome this obstacle in order to share those techniques and strategies with other Title X providers.

The financial concerns of family planning centers center on two areas.  First, HHS has been fielding complaints from family planning centers about "significant challenges" they are facing "negotiating adequate payment terms" with Marketplace private health plans.  On top of this are "continuing challenges" with Medicaid's "varying reimbursement policies around onsite dispensing of contraceptives and education and counseling."  Mandated free contraceptives has been one of the highest profile and most controversial parts of Obamacare, but ironically that increased availability may end up financially harming the very family planning centers that are a significant provider of those contraceptives -- particularly to low income clients.

The second category of studies looks for ways to mitigate the impacts of confidentiality requirements on family planning centers that can hamstring efforts to secure reimbursements, a problem that Obamacare will only exacerbate.  Since Obamacare aims to increase use of private insurance through the marketplaces, family planning centers will likely see an increase in difficulties obtaining reimbursements without the Explanations of Benefits (EOB) required by insurers.  Since claims details are available to the policy holders, clinics are often not able to file claims for family members wishing to keep their treatment at a family planning clinic private from a spouse or a parent.

HHS says that "[f]ifty percent of family planning clients are under the age of 25," and under Obamacare, millions of young adults ages 19-25 are now able to remain on their parents' policies.  But along with that coverage comes a lack of privacy for those young adults who may not want their parents to know of their contraceptive use, HIV testing, or treatment for STIs.  HHS says that in "the long term, this practice [of not billing to maintain confidentiality] may result in unsustainable revenue losses for Title X centers."

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