In October, the Biden administration issued a final rule to overturn a 2019 directive issued by then-President Donald Trump that forbade health clinics from receiving federal funding if they provided abortion referral services or were located on the same property as an abortion provider.
The funding in question is delivered through the Title X program, which provides federal funds for family planning services to clinics that serve low-income and uninsured people. These types of services can include contraceptive care, sexually-transmitted infection and cancer screenings, and pregnancy counseling.
In response to the Trump-era 2019 rule, more than a 1,000 clinics, including 400 Planned Parenthood clinics, chose to withdraw from the Title X network, which meant they no longer received federal funding. This circumstance, coupled with the chilling effect the covid-19 pandemic had on people seeking care, triggered a drop in the number of patients served by Title X clinics of almost 2.5 million from 2018 to 2020, according to the Department of Health and Human Services 2021 Office of Population report.
"Patients have been lost to Title X care at historic rates, and providers are struggling to keep their doors open with limited funds," said Audrey Sandusky, senior director for policy and communications at the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a non-partisan group that represents family planning clinics across the U.S. "That's cut off access to reproductive health services, from contraception to cervical cancer screenings."
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association challenging the changes to the Title X program in 2018.
President Joe Biden is now paving the way to restore that federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics, which was a promise he made during the 2020 presidential election.
The Biden administration's final rule, which took effect on Nov. 8, returns the Title X program mostly back to how it functioned before the Trump administration. Clinics that receive Title X funding can provide abortion counseling and referrals, or the clinics can have abortion services co-located on the same property, but federal funds cannot be used to pay directly for abortions.
The rule also reverses the 2019 rule's requirement that pregnant patients be referred for prenatal services, regardless of their preference for care. Under the Biden rule, pregnancy counseling must again be non-directive, meaning the patient decides what their path forward with the pregnancy will be and is not directed by the provider. That can include referral for an abortion, if the patient asks for such a service.
The Biden rule has just a few small differences from previous versions of the rule, in that telehealth is allowed to be used for family planning services and requires clinics to provide health care that is equitable and inclusive.
But, the issuing of the final rule is just one of several more steps that need to be taken before Planned Parenthood and other health clinics start to receive federal Title X funding again. They must also reapply for funding and rejoin their state networks.
In late October, HHS posted the first notice of a funding opportunity for entities to apply for Title X family planning funding. Applications close in January, and it seems likely clinics will receive the assistance starting in spring 2022, said Dee Srivastava, a policy analyst with Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Srivastava said she is not yet sure how many Planned Parenthood clinics will return to the Title X network.
"We are still developing how we are supporting affiliates through the application process," said Srivastava. "They have a lot to do operationally and it turns out getting back in [to the Title X network] is harder than getting out."
Other funding opportunities are also slated to open up next year for clinics to receive funding under Title X, said Sandusky, which could help even more join the network. But much is still unknown.
"We don't have a forecast of what the network will look like when new grant making is done," said Sandusky. "I think what our hope is that this funding will make it possible for longstanding expert providers to return to the program."
There is also a lawsuit that could potentially threaten this restoration of federal funding. On Oct. 25, 12 states, led by Ohio, filed a lawsuit against HHS stating that the Biden administration's rule violates the federal statute which says funds under Title X can't be "used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning."
So, while Biden appears poised to achieve this campaign promise of restoring federal funding to Planned Parenthood, the clinics have not gotten the money yet, and it seems it will be several more months before they do. There is also a pending lawsuit. And it's still to be determined how many clinics will rejoin the Title X network and if it can return to its original size and build back up the number of low-income and uninsured patients served.
We rate this promise In the Works.