This morning, I drove through the slush to my doctor’s office for my well-woman exam. Since the recommendations changed, I don’t have to have my feet up in stirrups nearly as often as I used to, but I still have enough experience that I know to keep my socks on so my feet don’t freeze.
It’s not exactly nostalgia, but the experience got me thinking about past well-woman exams, and particularly about those during the several years in my twenties when I didn’t have health insurance. I had no health insurance first because of cost and later because of a mistake in my medical record that caused me to be refused for a pre-existing condition I didn’t have (yes, there’s more to that story; no, I will not go into it now).
So, no health insurance. But since I was neither emotionally nor financially ready to start a family, I needed birth control. And that’s where Planned Parenthood helped me out.
I knew that I could go to Planned Parenthood and receive cancer screenings and contraception on a sliding scale that I could afford. Some clinics were busier than others, some clinicians were more compassionate than others, but regardless, the necessary care was there at a price that I could pay. And although my partner (and later spouse) had coverage through the university he attended as a grad student, I was comforted to know that he could seek medical services at Planned Parenthood, too.
But Planned Parenthood helped me beyond contraception and cancer screenings. It was a doctor at my favorite clinic in North Carolina who discovered my thyroid condition. While Planned Parenthood is known for family planning services and cancer screening, many clinics also provide general health services, and I was lucky that mine was one of those. Without access to affordable care at Planned Parenthood, I could have gone for years without learning about this condition, and I might have suffered other health problems as a result of leaving it untreated.
That clinic in particular was an especially comforting place. The staff there were responsive and caring, and they were especially skilled at working with patients who had experienced sexual abuse or assault. In my experience, this is not the norm within the medical community. Even once I had medical insurance, I continued seeking care there until we moved out of the area.
This morning, a little more than two weeks after a rally in Boston in support of the Affordable Care Act, as I handed my insurance card to the woman at the front desk at my doctor’s office, I realized that I had been without insurance at a very fortunate time. Without medical insurance, I could not have afforded to go to just any medical clinic, but Planned Parenthood was there to provide me with care that I could afford. If the ACA is repealed, millions of people—at least 18 million in the first year, according to the Congressional Budget Office—will lose their health insurance. When I was uninsured, I had Planned Parenthood, but with Planned Parenthood being threatened as well as the ACA, that might not be the case this time.
If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there in my twenties, I wouldn’t have had contraception, I wouldn’t have had cancer screenings, and I wouldn’t have had my thyroid condition diagnosed.
What will the millions of people who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for preventive and sexual health care do if neither medical insurance nor Planned Parenthood is there for them?
Here are some things you—and I—can do so that maybe we won’t have to find out.