Goals are to provide access, affordability for valley residents

By Ann McCreary

When the Twisp Family Planning Clinic closed last year, access to low-cost reproductive services became more difficult for Methow Valley residents.

Hosted at Room One for 15 years, the clinic was operated by Family Planning of North Central Washington.

To fill the gap created when the clinic closed, Room One will partner with Family Health Centers (formerly Methow Valley Family Practice) in a new approach called the Contraception Access Program (CAP) that is being launched this month.

“CAP is designed to reduce or eliminate the costs of the most-effective forms of birth control — long-acting reversible contraception,” said Elana Mainer, Room One executive director.

To ensure access to this form of contraception, teens and women can contact Room One or Family Health Centers, complete an eligibility screening, and get connected with a provider, Mainer said.

Room One has received a grant to provide funding for contraceptive costs, Mainer said. The grant will cover costs of contraceptive devices provided by Family Health Centers, she said.

“CAP is a pilot program for Methow Valley residents. We look forward to assessing this pilot effort and continuing to build a sustainable, local solution,” Mainer said.

The Family Planning Clinic at Room One provided reproductive health exams, birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and vaccinations, and sexual health education.

ACA changed services

The clinic closed in part because the federal Affordable Care Act enabled more people to receive family planning services from their primary care providers, Mainer said.

Additionally, she said, an increasing number of people are using long-term family planning methods, and that has reduced overall visits to specialized family planning clinics like the one at Room One.

The clinic’s closure raised concerns about ensuring that family planning remained are available in the Methow Valley to people who need it most — people on limited incomes or inadequate insurance, people seeking specialized, confidential family planning services, people with documentation status issues, and teenagers, said Adrianne Moore, prevention director at Room One.

“These are people who either can’t bill for insurance because of confidentiality, or who don’t have insurance,” Moore said.

“We strategized about a way to fill the most-critical gaps in family planning,” and the result was the partnership with Family Health Centers to provide access to contraception, Moore said.

Family Health Centers already provides medical care on a sliding scale. Through the contraception program, Room One will provide funding to pay the costs of long-term contraceptive devices, including IUDs and implants.

To qualify, participants must complete a simple application. They must be permanent or temporary residents of the Methow Valley, be unable to afford the contraceptive devices, and must be unable to obtain insurance or to bill insurance because of confidentiality concerns.

Long-term reversible contraception is very effective, but can also be expensive, said Allison Fitzgerald, a staff physician at Family Health Centers. Some IUDs that are effective for up to five years can cost up to $1,000, she said.

Anonymity issues

While Family Health Centers can provide medical service at little or no cost to patients unable to pay, it can’t write off the cost of the contraceptive devices, Fitzgerald said.

While the new program helps address financial issues, the anonymity that was provided by the family planning clinic at Room One is more difficult to replace, said Moore. Clients at that clinic were able to enter through a separate door and were seen privately.

Having to wait in a doctor’s office in a small community like the Methow Valley can be a barrier for young women or teens who are seeking contraception and want privacy, Moore said. She said Room One and Family Health Centers are still exploring options to provide privacy.

“We’ve discussed teen clinic hours or a separate waiting room,” Moore said. “We’re trying to make it accessible and confidential so women can access it in their own community.”

“Unfortunately, Okanogan County has abysmal teen pregnancy rates,” and the Methow Valley is not exempt, Fitzgerald said. About 100 clients were being seen at the family planning clinic at Room One, and about one-third were teens, she said.