Head of Planned Parenthood and Trump cabinet member square off during Aspen Ideas Festival

By Scott Condon / The Aspen Times
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, (right) denounced the Senate health care bill for its impacts on women's health issues Sunday at Spotlight Health, part of Aspen Ideas. She was interviewed by Pat Mitchel.
The Aspen Times

The U.S. Senate’s health care bill came under withering fire from the head of Planned Parenthood while defended by a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Health and Human Services Director Tom Price gave vastly different assessments of what the bill, if passed, will accomplish during a closing segment of the Spotlight Health portion of Aspen Ideas. They took the stage separately for one-on-one interviews, with Richards following and noting that Price didn’t mention the bill’s effects on women.

She criticized the health care bill for being drafted in secret without any input from women.

“It’s very scary to have an administration that essentially (wants to) end access to Planned Parenthood, end access to birth control, even.”

She said she often says, “If more members of Congress could get pregnant, we wouldn’t be fighting about birth control.”

There’s a misunderstanding of how Planned Parenthood would be affected by the GOP bill, she said.

“Planned Parenthood isn’t being defunded because we don’t get a check from the federal government. There’s not like this big Publisher’s Clearing House thing that arrives,” Richards said.

Instead, the bill would end reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for services ranging from breast cancer screenings to numerous family-planning initiatives.

“Ironically, if you can look at it that way, what they’re talking about is actually blocking folks from coming to us for the very services that prevent unintended pregnancy,” she said.

That would have devastating effects and roll back hard-fought gains made in the Affordable Care Act passed by President Barack Obama, according to Richards.

She noted that about 1 in 5 women in the U.S. come to Planned Parenthood for some type of care. Half of its clinics are in “underserved” communities where there are predominantly women of color. About 75 percent of patients are living at 150 percent of poverty or below.

The bill before the Senate would eliminate a restriction on co-pays for birth control, among other things, Richards said. “Fifty-five million women in America today, before this bill passes, have access to no-cost birth control,” she said.

As a result, huge gains have been made in decreasing unwanted pregnancies and abortion, according to Richards.

“We are today at a historic low for teenage pregnancies. We’re now at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy and we’re actually at the lowest abortion rate since Roe v. Wade,” Richards said.

Price focused during his interview on shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He said small businesses are suffocating under the health care legislation and that individuals are paying more money for less coverage, since deductibles are often prohibitive. He said the different House and Senate bills aim to provide relief, especially for hard-hit Americans on individual and small group plans.

“The goals that we have as an administration, the goals that the president has laid out, is that we need a system that, as he says, has a heart,” Price said.

“For him, that means making certain every single American has access to the kind of coverage that they want — not that the government forces them to buy — that pre-existing illnesses and injuries are covered, that there is a transition phase to any new plan so that nobody falls through the cracks, we’re not pulling the rug out from under anybody,” Price continued. “So that hopefully there are more individuals who are insured under the new plan than are currently insured.”

Price vowed that the administration will make the transition smooth for millions of Americans as they are switched from Medicaid to the individual market, employer-sponsored coverage or Medicare. The goal, he repeated, is “that nobody falls through the cracks, that that is a seamless transition.”

When interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, pressed him if that was a guarantee the Trump administration will make, Price wavered just a bit.

“There are no guarantees in life,” he said, noting that Obama said no one would pay more for health insurance under his health care act yet many people are paying more.

Price said America would be better off with a system that restores individual choice to health care.

“If you view it as the role of government to provide health care for everybody, that’s a way that you can move, but there are consequences to that (which result in) decrease in quality, decrease in affordability, decreases in choices for individuals,” Price said.

Richards said the elected officials, particularly the handful of Republican senators that drafted the bill, are out of step with the American people on women’s care issues. No parents want their teenage daughters to get pregnant, she said, and focus groups show most men support widespread birth control for women.

The senate’s vote could come this week, prior to a recess. The New York Times reported Sunday that Senate GOP leaders were scrambling to try to find enough votes for passage.

Richards promised intense lobbying to try to defeat or alter the bill. She said it’s time for men to join the fight on women’s health care issues.

“This isn’t a women’s issue anymore,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing now, it’s not enough. You’ve got to do more and you’ve got to figure out what that is.”

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