Planned Parenthood: The Way of the Fotomat
Note (9/4/2015): The author wishes to acknowledge an error in the originally published version of this article. Due to a mistake in interpretation the cost of patient care at a Community Health Center (CHC) was stated as $1.67 per patient per year rather than the obviously much-larger $1.67 per patient per day. The original article cited by CLI was comparing the much-lower per diem cost of CHCs relative to the cost of hospital inpatient care, emergency room visits, and other alternatives. The reallocation of the current Planned Parenthood funding of $528.4 million in annual spending from federal, state and local government sources would finance care for an additional 866,869 women if the $1.67 per diem cost claimed by CHCs is used. Other CHC documents suggest that full access to current fiscal year discretionary funds plus another $3.6 billion from the mandatory Health Center Fund could establish CHC capacity for another 11 million patients, a figure that suggests an even lower per diem cost than $1.67. Even at $1.67 per day, a full reallocation of the $528.4 million could serve a minimum of 31 percent of Planned Parenthood’s unique annual client base of 2.8 million individuals. A $528.4 million reallocation represents 41 percent of Planned Parenthood’s current budget. The calculation presumes that the annual cost per patient for women of childbearing age in a CHC is the same as the overall per patient average in a CHC, and that Planned Parenthood’s per diem per patient cost for the transferred services equals the full CHC per patient cost, which is unlikely given the much wider scope of CHC services. Mr. Donovan sincerely regrets the error.
In the wake of the spreading scandal over the sale of human organs extracted from unborn children, members of Congress are calling for the end of federal funding of Planned Parenthood. A first attempt in the U.S. Senate to do this failed on Monday of this week, but a dozen more Senators voted for the cut-off than did so the last time it was considered, in 2011. A cut-off would be condign punishment for an elite institution long given to dismissive responses to evidence of ethical misconduct, but the latest charges are hardly the only reason to wean this mega-wealthy nonprofit from the federal dole. In truth, the stand-alone Planned Parenthood facility is obsolete.
A proper analogy is the Fotomat. Beginning in the 1950s, this American company began to build singular facilities in the form of brightly colored huts that dotted strip malls across the United States. Featuring drive-through, same-day services for photo developing, and staff members cutely dubbed fotomates (for women) and fotomacs (for men), the huts multiplied until there were some 4,000 of them located in every part of the country. As technology changed and photo processing was incorporated via minilabs into everything from pharmacies to Walmarts, the freestanding Fotomats all but disappeared. Some were repurposed into drive-through minimarts.
Today, a similar question should dog Planned Parenthood. What public purpose is served by a free-standing, population-control-driven, eugenically inspired, abortion-merchandising, fetal-tissue-vending family planning distributor that costs taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars a year? Even back in the early 1970s, when Congress adopted Title X of the Public Health Service Act, advocates of the program, including then Congressman George H. W. Bush, were wary of the wisdom of establishing federally subsidized clinics that would focus solely on dispensing birth control. It wasn’t so much controversy over these products, or the notoriety of Margaret Sanger’s elite bigotry, that Rep. Bush and others had in mind. It was the danger of seeing family planning as something operating outside of a whole women’s health concept.
Then-Planned Parenthood president Alan F. Guttmacher, vice president of the American Eugenics Society, a longtime Planned Parenthood partner, even testified to Congress that he was not sure Planned Parenthood would seek Title X funding if the program were adopted. That rapidly changed, of course, and Planned Parenthood has received more than $200 million in Title X funds over the last three years for which data is available.
But other things have changed as well. Today family planning has its own section in your local CVS and Walgreens, Rite-Aid and WalMart. A table of contraception options prepared by the Charlotte Lozier Institute shows nearly a dozen over-the-counter items, ranging in unit price from 66 cents to $7.00. Post-coital “contraceptives” which regrettably have an abortion-inducing mode of action, are available over the counter as well, by judicial decree and with the approval of the Obama Administration Food and Drug Administration.
Even before the “preventive services mandate” issued under Obamacare, the vast majority of U.S. health plans covered contraception and many did so under state laws mandating the coverage. Pro-life and religious entities are battling the Obamacare mandate that makes these items cost-free to the consumer, but even if they succeed – by court ruling or a legislative correction of Obamacare – the vast majority of private insurance plans going forward will still pay for virtually every available form of contraception and female sterilization without applying a deductible or any other form of cost-sharing. This is privileged coverage unavailable for medications many Americans regard as essential health care.
In addition, Obamacare and follow-up legislation have made billions of dollars available to community health centers, which generally provide contraception but integrate it within an array of services to families and children, including primary care, pharmacy and dental care. With full access to up to $5.1 billion in federal funds and tens of millions in direct state grants this year the community health centers say that they can serve an additional 11 million patients at an average cost of $1.67 per patient. The centers do so without providing abortions, much less engaging in the grisly business of trafficking in the hearts, lungs and livers of babies.
Finally, Planned Parenthood is an income machine. In its last annual report, it detailed net income of more than $127 million. Over the past nine years the group has garnered net revenue totaling nearly three quarters of a billion dollars. Planned Parenthood can and should make its own way in the marketplace. And Congress should recognize that women have, and need, better alternatives than Planned Parenthood’s version of the Fotomat.
Chuck Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.