Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why I am Opposed to Planned Parenthood (and it's not why you might think)

{I wrote the bulk of this years ago when the governmental funding of Planned Parenthood was a matter of political debate. I decided to dust it off and pull it out of my draft folder after observing the most recent PP shenanigans.}

Image result for planned parenthood

No, folks, it's not just because of the abortions (I'm actually mostly pro-choice). 

This is a little personal, as all health issues are, and I was hesitant to write about it.  But with all the media and political hype about Planned Parenthood lately, I feel it's my duty to put my experience out there.

I lay on the examination table, my clothes neatly folded on the plastic chair, only a thin sheet of tissue paper between my body and the cold air of the cramped exam room. I had been lying there for at least 20 minutes before the doctor came in.

I went to Planned Parenthood several years ago and was seen as a patient.  It was actually a mistake; I had seen the (free) nurse practitioner at my grad school, and she told me about a doctor who worked for an office that had a sliding payment scale. Since I was broke and had no insurance, I decided to give it a try. I set up an appointment.

I arrived on time, but I was confused because there wasn't a doctor's office in the strip mall for the address I'd been given. I walked around for awhile until I realized the "doctor's office" was actually a Planned Parenthood. To be clear, my health issue involved neither planning nor parenthood (or reproductive health in general). Feeling a bit misled since I had not been told, either by my provider or the person on the phone, that the office was, in fact, a Planned Parenthood, I walked in for my appointment.  

The waiting room was freezing and dirty. The receptionists were linked to the room by a sliding window. Since the entire room was tiled, the sound carried and there was no privacy--everyone in the waiting room could hear your business. I confirmed with the receptionist that I was in the right place, and she directed me to sit and wait. I was called back after 15 minutes to give a urine sample. The facilities were dirty and cramped, and I had to place the filled cup outside the waiting room on an unhygienically cluttered counter alongside a bunch of other filled cups. I returned to the waiting room and was called back after another 45 minutes. I expected to see the doctor since my appointment time had been an hour prior, but instead I had to talk to a woman about "insurance." She instructed me to fill out a sheaf of paperwork for government funding, and then was upset that I didn't have a copy of my birth certificate. (True, I had been instructed to bring one when I'd called in, but it was at my parents' house and I didn't think they'd actually need it, especially since I'd brought my social security card and driver's license.) So I called my mom and asked her to fax the office a copy of my birth certificate.

I was directed again to the waiting room. It was so cold (freezing!)--the same temperature as the chilly February morning outside. Luckily, I'd brought a wonderful book, but I was frequently distracted from it by the very loud and very foul language another patient used as she talked on her cell phone, complaining to some friend about the wait. The rest of the people filing in and out were, for the most part, loud, rude, and vulgar.  

After waiting another hour, I finally asked the receptionist (after much knocking on the glass) if the doctor would be seeing me soon. She informed me that patients were seen on a first-come, first-served basis and that I would be taken back when it was my turn. I wondered what the point of making an "appointment" was in the first place, but I returned to my seat.

After another 30 minutes, two and a half hours after I'd arrived, a medical assistant took me back to an examination room. She instructed me to remove my clothes and sit on the examination table and handed me a skimpy sheet of tissue paper to cover myself as she left.  I asked her why I needed to get undressed, and she said that since I didn't bring proof I'd had a pap smear in the last year, I had to have one done in order to see the doctor (I had not been informed of this beforehand). Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, I watched the assistant leave and stripped down. I perched awkwardly on the exam table--sans clothes--clutching my thin tissue shroud around me.  I sat there and waited.  For 20-30 minutes. Naked. Cold. Uncomfortable.  

The doctor--who was, it turned out, actually a nurse practitioner--finally came in. She was nice and seemed competent, but rushed. Barely making eye contact before getting down to business up in my business, she asked me the purpose for my visit. I explained, and she told me, without fanfare, that she couldn't help me, and I would have to go somewhere else. She finished up the breast exam and left, and I put on my clothes.

I confirmed I didn't owe anything and asked the receptionist on my way out, "How will I know if I'm not approved for funding?"

She looked at me blankly. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, how will I know if I need to pay for this visit?"

She shook her head. "Well, I guess if you come back, we'll charge you then."

"So you won't send me a bill?" I asked. "You won't let me know if I owe you money? How am I supposed to pay something I don't know I owe? I don't want to be sent to collections or anything."

She shrugged. "We don't send bills."

With that, she handed me a large [unsolicited] bag of condoms, gave me a pack of birth control pills for six dollars ("They would have been free if your government assistance had gone through today," she told me apologetically), and sent me on my merry way. 

I found out later that my application had not been processed because, despite my mom faxing them my birth certificate, they never bothered to submit it.

To recap: I scheduled an appointment time that wasn't honored to receive treatment that wasn't provided and given services that weren't wanted. I wasn't charged for the visit, and Planned Parenthood wasn't paid for it, either. 

It made me wonder, if Planned Parenthood's business model is so inefficient that no effort was made to recoup costs for my appointment by either filing the paperwork to receive a government reimbursement or, failing that, billing me for their services, why the government is so hell-bent on funneling millions of dollars a year into this organization that turns healthcare into a DMV or Social Security office experience, complete with unfriendly, inefficient, incompetent employees, dirty floors, and long wait times. 

I think I just answered my own question.

But, hey! Free condoms!


  1. I have not explored the recent PP controversy so I won't comment on it.

    What I will say is I've been to several PP facilities (5+) over the years -- for different needs, in major and small markets, over multiple appointments -- and had nothing but clean, private, efficient experiences.

    It really saddens me that this was yours; I think generally they provide very important services to underserved women.

    1. I am relieved to hear that my experience may be an outlier. I agree that the services they provide are important and are serving what could be an unmet need, but I feel a little queasy about the government subsidizing otherwise private, for-profit businesses. What if the government funneled the subsidy money back into the medicaid program and raised the amounts it pays for these procedures for underserved women so that more facilities would accept medicaid? Or otherwise used it to benefit these women?

      Thanks for the comment.