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Conservatives frequently take shots at Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, even though the controversial procedure is but a small part of what the health care organization provides.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, led by Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, launched an investigation in September 2011 into Planned Parenthood by demanding that it provide years of information about its federal funding and its compliance with abortion restrictions.
This didn’t sit well with Rep. Tim Ryan, a Ohio Democrat from Niles, who called the investigation a baseless, ideological attack on Planned Parenthood, which he described as a trusted provider of health care to millions of people, "many of whom would otherwise not receive vital services like pre-natal care, well woman exams and cancer screenings."
Among those Planned Parenthood treats are the poor, according to Ryan. In a news release Sept. 28, he detailed just how those numbers are increasing in the United States:
"These attacks come at a time when the poverty rate among women is the highest in nearly two decades and 1 in 5 women under 65 don’t have access to health care."
We will leave the debate over abortion rights which is at the center of this flap to Ryan, Stearns and others. But PolitiFact Ohio took a look at Ryan’s claims about impoverished women without health care.
The stats back up the first part of the claim -- that the poverty rate among women is the highest in nearly two decades.
Ryan based his information on an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center of U.S. Census Bureau data. It shows that the poverty rate for women ages 18 to 64 rose to 14.5 percent in 2010, the highest rate in 17 years.
Furthermore, the number of women it classifies as living in extreme poverty (with incomes less than half of the federal poverty level) checked in at 6.3 percent, the highest rate over the 22 years the measurement has been taken.
What about the second part of Ryan’s claim; that 1 in 5 women (or 20 percent) under 65 don’t have access to health care.
Ryan again relied on the National Women’s Law Center analysis, only what the organization more precisely stated is that the number of uninsured women between the ages of 18 and 64 rose to 19.7 percent in 2010. That figure counts only women who had no coverage of any kind, private or public, for the entire year.
Ryan’s statement equates not having insurance to not having access to health care. While a woman, or any person for that matter, without health insurance finds it much more difficult or expensive to get medical treatment, there are places they can go, at least in an emergency.
Many physicians will see an uninsured patient if they are dogged enough and the ailment severe enough, said Henry Aaron, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, but that’s asking an awful lot of the patient.
And non-profit hospitals are obligated to stabilize patients with serious conditions, he said, but perhaps not to provide follow-up treatment.
"The whole thing is your treatment is delayed," he said.
Those without insurance also find it more difficult to get simple check-ups and then to find a doctor who will write a prescription, Aaron said. They are often embarrassed to ask for charity or to run the risk of being refused.
"(Being uninsured) just leaves barriers, psychological and financial, to acquiring health care," he said.
Ryan reinforced that point when we contacted his office.
"This economic barrier to health insurance obstructs many women from obtaining the most basic health care," he said. "While these women are legally guaranteed treatment to stabilize emergency conditions at some hospitals, this promise falls far short of the access to medical care most of us depend upon to stay healthy and safe. It's shameful that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have allowed women to reach such a high level of poverty."
Planned Parenthood is part of the safety net of health care providers for the indigent, said Tara Broderick, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio.
Less than 30 percent of its clients have health insurance. Those who don’t have insurance are billed on a sliding scale, she said.
As for abortion services, nationally, only about 10 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clients receive an abortion or an abortion pill, Broderick said, and the percentage locally is even smaller.
The 50,000 people (primarily women) who visited one of Planned Parenthood’s 13 offices in Northeast Ohio last year were more likely to receive non-abortive birth control assistance or medical check-ups such as pap tests, breast and pelvic exams and blood work for checking cholesterol levels or for evidence of diabetes, Broderick said.
So, how do we rate Ryan’s statement?
Before returning to Ryan’s statement, we note one other point Aaron made.There is a wide enough difference in the amount of health care that someone with insurance receives compared to someone without insurance that there is "something" about Ryan’s statement that conveys truth, he said.
Politifact Ohio would agree.
On Ryan’s first point about the rate of poverty for women, census data backs his assertion.
On the second part he said 1 in 5 women age 18 to 65 don’t have access to health care. That differs from the census database, which said 1 in five do not have health insurance.
That’s a point that needs clarification. And that also consistent with Ryan’s underlying point, that the number of women in poverty is at a high point, and that getting access to health care would be difficult for many women without services of agencies like Planned Parenthood.
On the Truth-O-Meter we rate Ryan’s claim Mostly True.
Rep. Tim Ryan, news release, "Congressman Tim Ryan Condemns New Republican Attacks Against Planned Parenthood," Sept. 28, 2011
Interviews and e-mail exchanges with Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for Rep. Tim Ryan
Interview and e-mail exchanges with Danielle Garrett, health policy analyst, National Women’s Law Center.
National Women’s Law Center, "NWLC analysis of new census data shows record numbers of women in poverty, without health insurance," Sept. 22, 2011
Interview with Henry Aaron, senior fellow, Brookings Institution, Oct. 31, 2011
Interview with Tara Broderick, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio, Oct. 31, 2011
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