[April 2017] Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) fail to protect America’s most vulnerable


By: Claire Dinshaw ’17

In the last paper, Inklings published an article entitled “Defund Planned Parenthood and stop oversimplifying issues,” arguing that, instead of funding Planned Parenthood (PP), federal dollars should be re-directed to fund Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), health care clinics that provide low-cost healthcare to millions of Americans.
This article discusses the severe discrepancy between the number of Americans FQHCs treat and the number of Americans PP treats. Even as a liberal, I, like the conservative writer, support the efforts and continued funding of FQHCs. However, they cannot be considered a viable replacement for family planning clinics until America revises its laws and attitudes towards family planning services.
Neither FQHCs nor PP receive a one-time check from the federal government. Instead, they are reimbursed for care they provide to Americans with Medicaid, a health insurance program designed for low-income individuals.
FQHCs treat Medicaid recipients for free, but they do not have the funding to also treat individuals without Medicaid for no cost. In contrast, because of funding PP receives through Title X, a law that requires the reimbursement of clinics providing Americans without health insurance family planning care (i.e. birth control, STI/HIV testing, etc.), PP can treat patients who do not qualify for Medicaid, as well as patients who do, for no cost.
There is a tremendous number of people near the poverty line without Medicaid. However, some of the most vulnerable are teenage girls who are unable to disclose their need for family planning services to adults. And, while FQHCs claim to treat all Americans, only PP can guarantee these girls free treatment.
Because of this, going to a PP clinic is the only advice health classes at Staples offer girls who have had unsafe sex or have been raped. PP is literally the only option teenage girls have if they need affordable family planning care.
However, there are also reasons to believe that both Medicaid holders and uninsured patients would be left vulnerable if the government stopped funding PP.
According to a bipartisan Congressional Research Service’s report, although FQHCs do offer some family planning services, the quality of this care is inconsistent, depending largely on a clinic’s location and the reproductive health laws of that state.
Furthermore, only PP and other family planning clinics can ensure patient confidentiality. Through Title X, PP is not required to reveal the identity of its patients to insurers. FQHCs, on the other hand, are required to report the identity of Medicaid qualified patients if they want to be reimbursed.
When FQHCs provide free care to all vulnerable populations, not just those with Medicaid and Medicare, government funding for PP will no longer be as vital. When FQHCs are able to offer comprehensive family planning services regardless of the laws in their state of location, PP may become unnecessary. However, until then, women and girls need PP.