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Teton Co. withdraws from federal funding program

JACKSON — Title X funding is no more in Teton County.

The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw from the federal program, which provides grants for family planning and related preventative services for low-income and uninsured people.

Title X funding has become a political lightning rod after a new rule went into effect that limits the types of medical referrals providers can make, colloquially deemed an “abortion gag rule.”

While providers at Title X facilities can offer abortion counseling, they cannot provide specific information on doctors who perform the procedure. Though the rule is being litigated, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed it to take effect while it moves through the court system.

County officials said local withdrawal stems from high administrative costs associated with the program. Officials also suggested the reason the county joined the program — to secure low-cost IUDs — is no longer relevant as low-cost pricing has been acquired through another program.

“This has been something weighing on our mind for a while,” Teton County Health Department Director Jodie Pond said. “This particular regulation related to the ability to do counseling and referral has been the final straw.”

On the national level, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40% of all Title X patients according to The New York Times, announced Monday it would no longer participate in the program, a decision directly tied to the administration’s “gag rule,” as it said in a press release.

Though the Teton County decision is nearly concurrent with Planned Parenthood’s, the Health Department advocated the change because it felt the funding was no longer needed to achieve its family planning goals. The department has received the funding since April 2017, Pond said, and applied for the grant particularly to be eligible for the 340B Drug Pricing Program.

The 340B program allows the Health Department to purchase IUDs for $50, rather than the $500 it was paying prior. Title X awarded the Health Department only $37,000 per year, with $8,000 of that being used to process the paperwork required to receive the grant. Still, the 340B cost savings were worth the effort, Pond said.

The department is now eligible for the same savings through its communicable disease program.

The administration’s rule, which critics say is a political push to weaken Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, also limits who can discuss family planning and health care options.

Many of the Health Department’s patients see nurses, who under the new rule could not provide options counseling but only referrals to prenatal care. County officials felt that would detract from the care the department gives its low-income patients.

Because the Health Department can achieve the 340B cost savings elsewhere, the political hoopla surrounding the Title X funding was the last push to leave the program.

“Why do that operationally when we don’t need to?” Teton County Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Natalia Macker asked. “It’s important for me as an elected official that we’re not involving health care in politics.”