Preserving Safety Net* Reproductive, Sexual and Maternal Health Care Services

Many U.S. women rely on safety net providers for reproductive, sexual, and maternal health care. The Institute of Medicine defines the safety net as “those providers that organize and deliver a significant level of health care and other health-related services to uninsured, Medicaid, and other vulnerable patients.”

In 2007, over 45 million Americans did not have health insurance and 39.6 million were covered by Medicaid, making the safety net a primary source of health care for nearly one-third of the U.S. population. Furthermore, since 2007 the number of unemployed has increased by seven million, adversely affecting the health coverage of those with employer-based insurance and increasing the demand on the safety net. The National Association of Community Health Centers reports that sixty million Americans now lack adequate access to primary care.

Even with comprehensive health care reform, without sufficient health care providers willing to serve communities most in need, improved health insurance will not necessarily result in improved access to health care. Overall, providers are limited, funding is scarce for safety net services, Medicaid budgets are strapped, unemployment is on the rise, and health care disparities for the impoverished and marginalized persist, making the preservation of the safety net a tenuous yet vital task. Local communities, where the impact of the safety net can be felt most acutely, are perfectly positioned to improve the health of residents by strategizing together on how to preserve the safety net for those most in need.

Local Recommendations:

The steady loss of safety net services and the increased reliance by surrounding residents on the existing urban health care safety net unduly burden urban communities. Reproductive, sexual, and maternal health services are important components of safety net services. Despite the unfair burden placed on urban areas to serve those in need without adequate financing, local communities must continue to provide and share responsibility for these vital safety net services.
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© 2012 National Institute for Reproductive Health