OLYMPIA — Washington state could save about $4.5 million over the next two years by supplying more women with better birth control, a Senate panel was told Tuesday. But a critic of the proposal to spend more state money on a family planning program suggested it will actually lead to more unplanned pregnancies, not fewer.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee is considering a proposal to spend an extra $900,000 on the Take Charge Program, and receive nearly $9 in federal money for each dollar of state money, it could cover women up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The state currently covers only women below 200 percent of the poverty level for a program that includes exams, PAP smears and birth control. Under federal law, the money can't be used for abortions.
By expanding the program, the state could expect to avoid paying for about 712 unplanned pregnancies in uninsured families,which cost the state about $17,000 each, officials with the Department of Social and Health Services said. About half of all births in Washington are paid for by the state, DSHS officials said.
When some senators questioned whether women in that group couldn't afford their own contraceptions, health officials said they could, but are likely to use less expensive and less effective birth control. “You get what you pay for,” Dr. Laurie Cawthon, an epidemiologist for DSHS, said.
But Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute contended more birth control will create problems, not solve them. It will lead to more risky sex, more pregnancies and more sexually transmitted disease, he said.
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said it sounded as if Backholm was saying there'd be less risky behavior if the state didn't provide contraception, and when he said that wasn't correct, she asked what he thought the state should do.
“Ultimately, to my mind, it's a character issue,” Backholm replied.