Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, testified at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Sept. 29. (Photo: Getty Images)
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards testified in front of Congress for the first time since the organization was targeted in secretly recorded videos by the antiabortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).
But those watching Tuesday’s heated hearing — which was led by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) and overseen by committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — saw plenty of drama (there was lots of shouting) plus some surprising moments that showed a basic misunderstanding of how the U.S. health care system works.
1. The federal funds that aid Planned Parenthood do not come in a bag of money.
Chaffetz kicked off the hearing with a tearful opening statement, explaining that the loss of both his parents to cancer was caused, indirectly, by the fact that Planned Parenthood received federal funding. Chaffetz suggested that if the government were not to provide funding for Planned Parenthood, it could spend more on cancer research — and thus his parents’ lives could have been saved.
Watch Chaffetz’s emotional opening words on cancer. (Video: YouTube)
Many Republican committee members made mention of the dollar amount Planned Parenthood received from the government last year and then raised questions about the use of those funds by the organization. Richards explained, just as frequently, that no federal tax dollars are ever used for abortion care except for some cases of rape or incest or where the life of a woman is at risk.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) shared: “Republicans have been saying that Planned Parenthood receives half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds. They make it sound as if the federal government writes a check to Planned Parenthood each year.”
But the vast majority of funding that Planned Parenthood receives yearly — approximately $400 million — comes from reimbursements for individual health services under Medicaid and Title X services. As Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) attempted to explain to her colleagues at one point, there would be no federal funding received if these services weren’t utilized.
Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics serve 2.7 million patients a year, 78 percent of whom live at 150 percent level of poverty or below. These patients are often in medically underserved areas where a Planned Parenthood affiliate is often the only Medicaid provider for well-woman care, contraception, and cancer screening within a reasonable distance of the patients in need of these services.
2. Mammograms are not the first step in a breast cancer screening.
The question was repeatedly raised as to how Planned Parenthood can possibly claim to do breast cancer screenings when no affiliates own a mammogram machine.
Planned Parenthood fills the role of a woman’s primary care physician or ob-gyn. When a breast exam is performed and the results indicate the need for follow-up evaluation, like a mammogram, the provider — in this case, a Planned Parenthood physician — refers the woman to a radiologist to administer the mammogram and then continues to serve as her point of contact for the management of her cancer treatment. No ob-gyn or primary care physician performs mammograms in-house, and neither does Planned Parenthood.
What Planned Parenthood does do is assess, evaluate, refer, and ensure that its patients can be seen by partner providers who are able to offer mammograms and cancer treatment services at reduced or subsidized rates to make sure these women — many of whom would not be able to see a doctor if not for her use of Planned Parenthood as her Medicaid or Title X provider — continue to get the medical care they need.
3. Planned Parenthood is not the Americans United for Life.
The hearing reached a particularly dramatic crescendo when Chaffetz displayed a slide he claimed was taken from Planned Parenthood’s annual report showing how breast cancer screening rates declined at Planned Parenthood as abortion rates increased.
The slide in question, Richards explained, was not in fact taken from Planned Parenthood documents but rather provided by the antiabortion lobbying group Americans United for Life (AUL), the very group that is providing legal consulting to the CMP.
Chaffetz said he would look into the origins of the slide despite the obvious AUL credits printed on the slide.
4. Cecile Richards’ salary is not paid for by federal funds.
Many on the committee took issue with Richards’ salary; it was just over $300,000 in 2009 and more than $500,000 in 2013. The committee members asked how Planned Parenthood could be in need of federal funding when it has a CEO with a six-figure salary.
Not only does the question again fail to indicate any understanding of the fact that Planned Parenthood is not handed a lump sum from the government — but is rather directly reimbursed for Medicaid and Title X–related care — as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) pointed out, it also highlighted the committee’s concern with the salary of a woman executive despite its never having questioned male CEOs compensation package in any hearing regarding any for-profit corporation led by the committee.
Watch Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s comments on the line of questioning about Richards’ salary. (Video: YouTube)
Rep. John Duncan (R-S.C.) took this line of questioning to a whole new level when he asked Richards if she expected “easier” treatment by the committee just because she was a woman. Without hesitating, Richards quickly replied, “No — that’s not how my mama [former Texas Governor Ann Richards] taught me.”