'Planned Parenthood Saved My Life': The Realities of Women's Health Care Beyond Abortion
Kate-Madonna Hindes was just 25 when a Pap smear revealed she had cervical pre-cancer. By the time she was 26, it had progressed to stage 1 cancer.
“I was devastated,” Hindes, 35, of St. Paul, Minn., told InsideEdition.com. “I had a little girl that was just born.”
She went on to beat the disease three times. But during her most recent bout with cancer, she was faced with the possibility of needing a hysterectomy and losing the ability to have more children.
Instead, she was able to expand her family, thanks to guidance from Planned Parenthood, after believing her OBGYN did not offer the option through her normal insurance due to the cost of carrying her child to term.
“They sat down with me. They leveled with me. I was getting married, I was so excited, and they told me, ‘You should think about having a baby soon, or you’re going to lose your opportunity,'" Hindes said.
Miscarriages are more common among pregnant women battling cancer, she was told, and she was required to undergo more frequent testing to make sure her baby would be healthy.
Because her cancer did not invalidate the rest of her reproductive health care as a pre-existing condition thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed under President Obama’s administration in 2010, she was able to receive high quality care at Planned Parenthood that helped her carry her baby to term.
Today, Daniel is 4 years old, and is the younger brother to 11-year-old Ava. Hindes thanks Planned Parenthood for making it possible.
“They gave us Daniel,” she said. “They gave us life.”
On May 4, the Republican House narrowly passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which will replace the ACA, or Obamacare, if it is passed in the Senate. As well as concerns that the bill will reduce coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and raise prices for low-income and minority populations, the AHCA will also include a provision that would effectively “defund” Planned Parenthood, reducing access to desperately needed health care for women like Hindes .
If passed, the AHCA stipulates a one-year block on any financial reimbursement through Medicaid for a “prohibited entity” – defined as any organization that offers abortion. Planned Parenthood is one of the organizations that falls under this category.
Sixty percent of Planned Parenthood patients access care through Medicaid. For those who are uninsured, Planned Parenthood also has programs in place to help people eligible for Medicaid get the insurance they need.
Blocking Medicaid patients from obtaining health care from Planned Parenthood would cause 390,000 women to lose access to health care, and up to 650,000 could face reduced access to preventative care, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
“It is extremely devastating and it is another extreme attack in the most vulnerable in our communities,” Alencia Johnson, the director of constituency communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told InsideEdition.com.
Notably, before the bill was passed by the House, abortion services were not covered by tax dollars, with the exception of extreme circumstances such as pregnancy from rape or incest, or if the pregnancy will become a danger to the woman’s life, as stipulated by the Hyde Amendment.
In fact, it is all the other crucial services Planned Parenthood offers, which are now under threat, that shaped the positive experiences of women like Hindes.
Before Hindes received insurance under MinnesotaCare — the form of Medicaid available to residents of her state — Hindes said she was either offered coverage for everything except her cervical health, or quoted up to $2,000 per month for insurance that covered services related to her cancer.
“I found this as a cancer patient,” she said. “If I couldn’t get the right doctor or clinic, it was all very stressful.”
When Medicaid was expanded under the ACA, people with a pre-existing condition like Hindes were also eligible for coverage, which made it all the more easier for her to access the tests she needed through Planned Parenthood.
“That doesn’t mean Planned Parenthood gets a blank check from the government,” Johnson, of Planned Parenthood, explained. “Birth control, breast cancer screenings, STI testing — those are all covered under Medicaid.”
Federal funding to Planned Parenthood is allocated in the form of a Medicaid reimbursement, and the government would be billed for the service, just like any other insurance company.
For Hindes that meant that even when she encountered a gynecologist that did not accept MinnesotaCare as a form of insurance, she could go to Planned Parenthood.
“Health care shouldn’t be a privilege. Health care is something everyone deserves,” Johnson said.
She’s not the only one who was able to receive critical health care despite her insurance status. Susana Lopez, 29, found herself in a life-threatening circumstance while she was uninsured.
“It’s a freak story,” Lopez told InsideEdition.com. “I didn’t know the severity of what I was dealing with at all.”
In 2011, she was 23 and living in Houston, Texas, when she contracted chlamydia that went undetected. Lopez said she also was not receiving regular STI testing because coverage under her parents’ insurance had ended, and she was not offered health insurance through the non-profit where she worked.
She said her STI had gone symptomless for several months before it started causing minor cramping in her abdomen.
“It was a really dull feeling at first,” Lopez explained. “It was sort of like a pain in my pelvis — it almost felt like period cramps and it was definitely in my abdomen so I knew I could get women’s care at Planned Parenthood. They were my first stop, because I was really concerned about the cost.”
When Lopez was assessed during her appointment, gynecologists immediately recognized it was an emergency situation that couldn’t be handled in a clinic setting and ordered an ambulance to transport her to a hospital.
She said she went misdiagnosed for nearly a week, in which time she received blood transfusions for a loss of blood in her abdomen, before she was rushed into surgery.
Surgeons later discovered the chlamydia had caused an infection in her ovarian cysts — which she didn’t even realize she had. The infection had gotten so bad that the cysts had burst and caused internal bleeding, which required transfusions and surgery.
“The most scary thing when you don’t have health insurance is just every little doctor’s visit,” she said. “You don’t have a regular doctor you can trust and it can seem like such a big hurdle to even go and get a regular test. Preventative care would have made a huge difference.”
But just months after her life-saving visit, the Texas legislature diminished federal funding to family planning clinics, and an American Journal of Public Health study found that, without these services, patients were not getting the same levels of care.
From September 2011 to December 2012, publicly funded reproductive health providers in Texas — some of which included Planned Parenthood — were forced into closures, reduced hours and longer lines as a result of major cuts to Title X funding that slashed the budget by two-thirds.
Title X allocates federal funds for family planning services not paid for under Medicaid and private insurance, and normally goes to support low-income and underinsured Americans. About 4 million Americans – men and women – rely on the Title X grant to receive health care.
Following the Texas budget cuts, researchers found 25 percent of family planning organizations closed, according to the study published by the American Journal of Public Health.
Lawmakers anticipated other health care providers would pick up the slack, but researchers said they found remaining facilities served only 54 percent of the population previously accessing those services.
“It’s simply untrue other federally funded health care providers can absorb our services,” Johnson, of Planned Parenthood, said.
Services considered more expensive, including IUDs, implants, and female sterilizations, were also discovered to be less widely performed, according to the study.
Clients who were not covered under any funding were also less likely to participate in Pap tests, chlamydia and gonorrhea screenings and HIV testing, it found.
Most family planning clinics that remained open reported a drop in overall clientele, and were generally more stringent about requirements that made patients eligible for other grants or programs, or required women to pay a higher fee for services.
Johnson said the organization fears the most recent defunding effort will ultimately harm the 3.5 million patients they see annually across the country.
“We are very concerned for our patients, many of which have nowhere else to turn,” she said.
Researchers also found that, as a result of the Texas legislation, the organization was unable to provide long term contraceptive options and serve minors anonymously — a particularly pertinent issue in Texas, which is home to the 5th highest birth rate among adolescents in the country.
Despite not being sexually active as a teen, Danielle Campoamor was one of the many adolescents who depended on Planned Parenthood’s anonymity when she required birth control to ease the symptoms of endometriosis as a teenager in Anchorage, Alaska.
“When I would be on my period I would be in so much pain,” she said. “It would hurt to walk. It would hurt to move and then I would get really, really sick and I’d end up throwing up.”
As a result, she would miss several days of school every month.
“I wouldn’t go outdoors. I couldn’t play sports,” Campoamor, now 30, said. “It was just a lot of staying in bed in the fetal position and kind of waiting for it to pass.”
Suspecting it might have something to do with her menstrual cycle, her mom took her to a Planned Parenthood, where Campoamor was diagnosed with endometriosis and prescribed a hormonal birth control pill to keep the symptoms under control.
Campoamor said she grew up with a controlling father who had a tight grip on the family’s money and lives. “My mom stayed at home with us and she didn’t have her own finances,” she said. “Planned Parenthood was a place for her and me to go without telling my father, who in no way would have let me go on birth control.”
The birth control pills ultimately helped regulate her period and made the most painful days more bearable. “It was a lot easier for me to stay active, keep playing sports for my middle school and high school, and then just continue actually doing my homework,” she said.
For Campoamor and her mom, Planned Parenthood not only offered them affordability, which allowed them to pay for any treatments without them showing up on her father’s bill, but anonymity.
“The unfortunate reality is that not everyone has a family or community that is supportive of people having accurate information,” PPFA’s Director of Health Media Elizabeth Clark told InsideEdition.com.
Clark explained, for youth looking to access birth control to prevent pregnancy, the organization ensures teens get accurate sex education along with the medication.
“Personally, arguing that people don’t deserve or shouldn’t have access to birth control, one, is just a denial of the reality that we live in,” Clark said. “And two, there’s this misconception that [we’re] going to be handing it out in the Halloween candy basket or something. What we want is everyone of all ages to have all of the information and resources they need to keep themselves healthy.”
While Planned Parenthood’s payment policy for helping uninsured people get the medical services they need varies state to state, what’s uniform across the board is that no uninsured person would be turned away from any Planned Parenthood location.
“Our belief has always been people deserve expert professional healthcare, no matter who they are and that shouldn’t depend on your zip code or how much you make,” Clark said. “Access is incredibly important to young people, and it’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing a historic low in unintended pregnancies.”
According to a Planned Parenthood study, their health centers make up only 10 percent of safety net facilities, yet they serve more than 35 percent of women who rely on affordable services.
More than half (54 percent) of Planned Parenthood centers are located in rural, medically underserved or health professional shortage areas.
“I grew up in a really rural area in a mountain town in West Virginia and there was one doctor,” Clark explained. “If you couldn’t get an appointment or that doctor didn’t take your insurance... your care options are limited.”
Despite living in bustling New York City, 25-year-old Ali Walensky credits Planned Parenthood’s convenience for saving her life.
Last summer, Walensky said she started feeling a pain in her chest, similar to a sore muscle. By fall, it developed into a lump.
“I just started a new job, I didn’t have any sick days, my gynecologist was up in Westchester, so the easiest place for me to go was Planned Parenthood,” Walensky told InsideEdition.com. “With something like this, I wasn’t comfortable going to an urgent care facility. I wanted somewhere that dealt with women’s health specifically.”
Following her November appointment, scheduled before her working hours, she was referred to a local specialist for a follow-up ultrasound. When the other facility needed additional prescriptions for a biopsy, a mammogram and a fine needle aspiration, Planned Parenthood was able to write the necessary notes on the same day.
That was also the day Walensky was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
“If I had gone to another place and they told me just to monitor it, I wouldn’t be here. They were able to get prescriptions out to me so quickly and I was able to get my treatment done sooner,” she said. “Chemo destroys your body [and] it is tough, but I know that I’m going to be stronger because of this and I get to say that I’m a breast cancer survivor.”
After her diagnosis in mid-December, Walensky began treatment in January. She has now undergone her sixth and final infusion of chemotherapy, and is scheduled to undergo either a single or a double mastectomy in the weeks to come.
“Planned Parenthood saved my life, they really did,” she said.
Like the other women, Campoamor also credits Planned Parenthood with giving her life. After turning to the organization throughout her teenage years, she returned again at age 26, when a drug store pregnancy test told her she was expecting a baby.
Planned Parenthood gave her more information: She was carrying twins.
“I was in total denial. She turned the ultrasound machine to me so I could see, and sure enough, there were two little babies,” she said. “They were the first ones to tell me I was pregnant with twins.”
At the time, she had just lost coverage under her parents’ insurance and was not qualified for health insurance from her employer because she was a freelancer.
As a first-time mother, she also said she didn’t know how to take care of herself during her pregnancy, but Planned Parenthood gave her guidance and recommended different gynecologists in the area that could deal with the high-risk pregnancy.
“Any time I’ve ever been to Planned Parenthood… it’s a relationship that I feel I have with the providers there,” she said.
She was on a flight from Seattle to San Diego to visit her military brother ahead of his deployment when she lost one of her twins at 19 weeks.
“I ended up passing out and going into convulsions on the plane. They had an emergency situation where they called for doctors and nurses on the plane and they had everyone wait for the ambulance to take me to the hospital [after we landed],” Campoamor said. “I was really, really scared because I was flying alone.”
Doctors told her at the hospital that one of her babies’ hearts had stopped beating. She had just undergone a high-risk miscarriage, and faced the possibility of losing her other baby or going through pre-term labor.
“I was just so afraid if I did anything I’d end up losing the other twin too,” she said. “If something goes wrong in the pregnancy… it’s [the woman’s] fault and I felt that way when I lost the twin.”
Fortunately, her other baby was carried to term and she gave birth to a healthy son, Matthias, who’s now 2.
Like all the women, Campoamor hopes her access to Planned Parenthood’s range of services remains available in the face of the AHCA.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s like going to see an old friend,” she said. “That kind of care when you’re dealing with reproductive health, I think, is really, really important.”