Editorial: Poor planning

Kansas can’t simply ignore the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds to support women’s health and family planning.

Apparently, Kansas legislators should have checked with federal officials back in 2011 before promising that funding they were taking from women’s health and family planning services at some Kansas clinics would be transferred to other clinics that could provide the same services.

As a policy matter, legislators decided they didn’t want federal Title X funds going to two Planned Parenthood clinics in Wichita and Hays or to an unaffiliated family planning clinic in Dodge City. None of those clinics performed abortions, but they used the Title X funds to provide other vital services — Pap tests, breast exams, birth control services and testing for sexually transmitted diseases — to low-income Kansans.

Those services wouldn’t be lost, legislators said in 2011, because the Title X funds would go to county health departments and other medical facilities that would provide the same or better services as the clinics that were being defunded.

Or not.

According to an Associated Press story published in Sunday’s Journal-World, when the Legislature banned funding to the clinics in Wichita, Hays and Dodge City, the federal government simply canceled that funding, resulting in a loss of $370,000 a year to the state. The state had no opportunity to transfer that money to other facilities; it was simply gone.

The clinics in Dodge City and Hays have closed, and neither of their counties (Ford and Ellis) has a Title X service provider for low-income families. State officials told the AP that wasn’t a problem because those residents could simply travel to other counties to obtain family planning and health services. Where? Both of those cities are in largely rural areas and lie at least 50 or 100 miles from larger cities that might have services available. That distance essentially makes those services inaccessible for most low-income people.

The clinic in Wichita is still operating but is serving far fewer people, especially low-income people, than it did before. Although legislators said they wanted county health departments to take over some of that caseload, Title X funding distributed by the state to the Sedgwick County health department actually has been reduced. According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment figures, Title X funding for that department has dropped from $276,000 in fiscal year 2014 to an estimated $167,790 for the current fiscal year.

Funding for Planned Parenthood and its policies or practices concerning abortion have spurred considerable controversy across the country. What shouldn’t be controversial is the continuation of family planning and women’s health services to low-income people through the Title X program.

There is no excuse for Kansas legislators canceling funding to these clinics without making sure that federal funds would be available to continue those services at other locations. Maybe Kansas legislators didn’t know their 2011 action would endanger continued Title X funding for Kansas, but they also didn’t care enough to find out.

The result is that thousands of Kansas residents are doing without health services that previously had been available. State health officials may think that’s an acceptable situation, but Kansas residents should let them know it is not.