Why Did You Stop Going to Family Planning?

“I went to family planning when I was a teenager.”

I can’t even tell you how many times and in how many different settings I’ve heard this phrase. There’s the woman who cuts my hair, the physical therapist who helped repair my sore ankle, the dental hygienist who cleans my teeth, and the high school classmate I saw at our reunion.

When I tell them where I work, women love to tell me how important family planning was to them when they were teenagers. Depending on the situation and how well I know the person, I may ask “Why don’t you go to family planning now?”

That’s when I get the look. You know the look — the one that suggests you just said something really, really dumb.

The answers I get, although unique to each woman, are always based on two common assumptions about family planning — two common and false assumptions.

The first of these is the assumption that more expensive options are always better. Most of us have heard the old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Buy cheap and you’ll come to regret your decision. That’s what we’ve been taught. This may be true of certain consumer goods but when it comes to health care it ain’t necessarily so.

Family planning services are offered on a sliding fee scale for people with no health insurance and little income. That’s our federal mandate. Because of this, there’s an assumption that the quality of family planning health care is lower than care that’s more expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Actually, when it comes to reproductive health care, the quality of family planning care is often better than other forms of care. The thing is — our nurse practitioners and family planning specialists practice a very specialized form of clinical care and they are the experts on the reproductive health care needs of women, men and teens.  It’s what they do — day in and day out.  Family planning practitioners become experts in a way that’s difficult for a more generalized medical provider.  And Maine family planning staff are always on the cutting edge of advances in clinical guidelines and they regularly receive appropriate training updates .

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  A 2010 study found that Maine’s family planning health care system demonstrated what the researchers believed to be the highest documented quality of care of any family planning program in the country.  The study measured both quality of care and patient satisfaction. Family planning services in Maine rated highly in both areas. It turns out you can get high quality health care at lower prices.

The other common and false assumption that underlies the shift away from family planning care is the concept that family planning is only for particular subsets of patients — namely low-income women and teens.

I’ve heard women say they stopped going to family planning when they got health insurance because they didn’t want to use a spot that should go to a low-income patient with no health insurance. This is a wonderful sentiment and I applaud these women for it! However, that’s not really how family planning works.

Federal policy mandates that family planning providers offer services to all women and teens, regardless of their ability to pay. There’s no limit on the number of patients who can get free or low-cost services. If they qualify, they get the care. It’s as simple as that.

Many people mistakenly believe that family planning is just for teens and young adults. Really? Guess I’ll have to tell that to the hundreds of midlife and older Maine women who rely on their local family planning health center for free health care through the Maine Breast & Cervical Cancer Program! Family planning nurse practitioners are very knowledgeable about the health care needs of midlife and older women.

There you have it! Let’s shatter the false assumptions and help people understand that family planning is confidential, affordable, expert reproductive health care for women and men of all ages.

Why did you stop going to family planning?

What underlying assumptions led to your decision?

~ Nancy

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