From Title X to the Coronavirus, the Trump Administration Is Degrading Our Health Care Safety Net

Nikita Mhatre

Last week, the physical separation requirement of the Trump administration’s Title X gag rule went into effect. Along with many other provisions of the gag rule, the requirement of strict physical separation between a provider’s Title X services and abortion services has effectively forced many providers out of the program. And while we should be outraged about this degradation of the nation’s only federal publicly funded family planning program in its own right, it is especially infuriating when we see it in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak and the administration’s failure to respond adequately. In large part, the situation we are in now is because the Trump administration has been hell-bent on destroying this country’s health care safety net, putting those most vulnerable at risk.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute show that the gag rule has slashed Title X’s network capacity nearly in half, with more than 900 clinics leaving the network; this number could even increase with the implementation of the physical separation requirement. This network reduction could affect as many as 1.6 million patients, putting them in jeopardy of not receiving the contraceptive care they need. And since Title X clinics primarily serve low-income women, uninsured women and women of color, let’s call the gag rule what it really is: an attack on the poor, uninsured and communities of color.

Not only do Title X clinics provide critical family planning services, they also often serve as people’s primary care provider, especially for the uninsured and Medicaid recipients, who are disproportionately people of color. With so many clinics leaving the network and insufficient replacements, lots of people are losing the only providers that they trust or that were available in their community. And with the coronavirus outbreak wreaking havoc on our health care system, these people are at risk of not getting the care they need and are being put in harm’s way.

The loss of the Title X network is just one way that the Trump administration has undermined our health care infrastructure and left our country ill-equipped to respond to the current coronavirus outbreak. After years of sabotaging the Affordable Care Act and interfering with the Medicaid program, the administration has weakened health care institutions and left many people without adequate access to care.

With respect to the coronavirus in particular, the administration failed at the outset to secure enough testing to help determine and contain the spread of COVID-19. The president has made statements that contradict what public health officials recommend and even overturned a public health plan after requests from political allies. Furthermore, just 11 days after the World Health Organization announced the coronavirus outbreak is “a public health emergency of international concerns,” the president introduced his FY2021 budget proposal that included a 16 percent decrease in CDC funding from the previous year. Although Congress passed and Trump subsequently signed an emergency spending bill to stop the spread of the virus, the administration’s actions as a whole still endanger the American public.

The Trump administration should be protecting vulnerable communities, not attacking their ability to live healthy lives. Rather than degrading the care that individuals and communities are able to receive, the administration should restore the Title X program to its original intent, increase access to comprehensive health care more generally, and embrace a national paid sick days standard so that workers are not forced to choose between taking care of themselves and their families and bringing home a paycheck. Learn more.

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