County drops birth control, pregnancy tests

Jackson County will stop providing reproductive health services because of a declining number of patients. 123rf.com

After years of falling patient numbers, Jackson County Health and Human Services will stop providing birth control, women’s annual exams and pregnancy tests.

The number of reproductive health patients has fallen every year for at least the past decade, from 3,208 in 2008 to 1,083 in 2018, according to county data.

Jackson County isn’t alone in seeing the drop-off.

“Statewide, this is happening to county-run reproductive health clinics,” said Jackson Baures, public health division manager.

The expansion of health care coverage through the 2010 Affordable Care Act means more people are going to regular doctors and relying less on county-run clinics, he said.

“We largely served as a safety-net clinic. Before the Affordable Care Act, there were a lot less people with health insurance,” Baures said.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which requires insurers to provide certain reproductive health services at no out-of-pocket cost.

That also expanded access to medical care, Baures said.

More people have a “medical home” and can develop a long-term patient and provider relationship that addresses all their health care needs, he said.

“The medical model has really evolved over time for the better,” Baures said.

Some people are still coming to the county clinic for reproductive health care, even though most of those patients are insured through the Oregon Health Plan, he said.

“People get used to going to the same provider,” Baures said.

Jackson County has been notifying local medical providers and its remaining patients this month about its shift away from reproductive health care. The county is working to transition patients to other providers, health officials said.

The county still will be working to address sexually transmitted diseases, which are on the rise locally and nationally.

In Jackson County, officials blame dating apps that facilitate casual sex, reduced condom use and methamphetamine — which increases sex drive and lessens inhibitions — for higher STD rates.

The county will continue to help people diagnosed with STDs by tracking down and notifying partners who may have been exposed, Baures said.

The county wants people to go to their regular health care provider for STD testing and treatment, he said.

Baures said the county remains most concerned about syphilis infections, especially among pregnant women.

Untreated syphilis can cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and death for a baby, according to the March of Dimes.

The nation experienced a lengthy shortage of the antibiotic used to treat syphilis due to manufacturing delays, but the Oregon Health Authority announced this spring the drug is once again available.

Baures said the state is helping to distribute the medication, and Jackson County can provide the antibiotic to local medical providers who haven’t been able to access the treatment for their patients.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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