Monday, November 10, 2008

Save Our Program

Whenever tough economic times require that budgets be cut, you know that there will be a long list of people ready to argue that their pet project or favored cause should be spared the fiscal ax. And some of those people will go out and start looking for allies.

And so it is that I received an e-mail from the local progressive political group. (The Republicans have my telephone number, it seems, while the Democrats have my e-mail address...) It warns that a local county proposal to same money through eliminating family planning clinics for low-income families "is a really bad decision." It continues: "It's penny smart and pound foolish, and carries some terrible consequences."

To illustrate this, it holds out the example of "Karina."

"She was 18 years old and still in high school when she learned she was more than three months into an unplanned, ill-timed pregnancy. After developing diabetes mid-pregnancy, Karina ended up in the operating room to deliver her son.

The birth control to help Karina avoid pregnancy would have cost the County about $10 a month. Instead, this birth and the subsequent medical care needed for Karina and her baby cost the state more than $20,000. Today, a County Public Health Clinic is helping Karina avoid pregnancy until she is in a better financial position.

But the County is looking to eliminate family planning clinics and STD services to balance the 2009 budget."
But the issue for Karina wasn't that the family planning clinics weren't available - the budget cuts haven't gone into effect yet - it's that, from all appearances, that she didn't make use of them until after she'd already had a difficult pregnancy. Why should I care if the county ends a program, even one that only costs $10 per month per recipient, if people aren't using it in the first place? And the e-mail doesn't address what the county clinics would have done about the fact that Karina developed gestational diabetes - somehow I suspect that they would have spent much more than $10 a month looking after a teenager with a high-risk pregnancy. Why would you go around to people asking them to sign a web petition (Go slacktivism!) to save a program, using an anecdote that shows the program isn't even working all that well and likely needs even more money than they're already spending?

And, if you're attentive, you'll notice that it was "the state," not "the County" that picked up the tab for the delivery of Karina's son. So the county cuts the program, saving some amount of money, and the state picks up the tab for the deliveries? It might have "terrible consequences," but it doesn't seem all that "pound foolish." Unless, of course, you work for the state department of health.

Clearly, whoever authorized this e-mail didn't expect it to be picked apart (they may not even have expected it to be read carefully) by the recipients. And I guess that's the problem. The organization expected either that I'd care enough to sign their petition, or I wouldn't. They aren't asking for any personal sacrifice on my part, such as making a contribution to keep the clinics open. They aren't even offering a suggestion as to what other budget areas the county should cut to keep up the clinic funding, which would put me in the position of having to make a choice about priorities. Presumably, asking for sacrifice would entail a more completely thought-out pitch than looking for a knee-jerk reaction.

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