Public or private providers? U.S. women's use of reproductive health services

J J Frost
Family Planning Perspectives 2001, 33 (1): 4-12

CONTEXT: U.S. women receive contraceptive and reproductive health services from a wide range of publicly funded and private providers. Information on trends in and on patterns of service use can help policymakers and program planners assess the adequacy of current services and plan for future improvements.

METHODS: Women who reported in the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth that they had obtained any contraceptive or other reproductive health service in the past year were classified by their primary source of care, and the services they received, their characteristics and their primary source of care were analyzed. Logistic regression was used to test which factors predict women's use of publicly subsidized family planning clinics and of specific types of services.

RESULTS: The percentage of women of reproductive age who obtained family planning services increased slightly between 1988 and 1995, primarily among women aged 30 and older. Nearly one in four women who received any contraceptive care visited a publicly funded family planning clinic, as did one in three who received contraceptive counseling or sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing and treatment. Women whose primary source of reproductive care was a publicly funded family planning clinic received a wider range of services than women who visited private providers; moreover, the former were significantly more likely to report obtaining contraceptive care or STD-related care, even after the effects of their background characteristics were controlled. Young, unmarried, minority, less-educated and poor women were more likely than others to depend on publicly subsidized family planning clinics. Source of health insurance was one of the most important predictors of the use of public family planning clinics: Medicaid recipients and uninsured women were 3-4 times as likely as women with private insurance to obtain clinic care.

CONCLUSIONS: Publicly funded family planning clinics are an important source of contraceptive and other reproductive health care, providing millions of U.S. women with a wide range of services. Since women's need for reproductive care and for publicly subsidized care is not likely to diminish, clinics may be financially challenged in their efforts to continue delivering this broad package of services to growing numbers of uninsured or disenfranchised women.

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