Choose When has helped more than 400 women in five years
This month marks the fifth-year anniversary of Choose When, a nonprofit healthcare initiative formed by Routt County women to provide financial support to fellow local women who are trying to make the best choices for their lives.
The free services have helped 420 women in the past five years and are available for uninsured or under-insured women through Northwest Colorado Health in Routt or Moffat counties, Planned Parenthood in Routt County or Rio Blanco County Public Health. The effort has also served women from Grand and Jackson counties and Wyoming.
“The goal here is that every child is born into a family that is emotionally and financially ready for them. If every woman has access to best contraception, then every woman can choose when to have her children,” said Kathleen Wasserman, steering committee co-chair for Choose When.
Organizers of Choose When, a program under the umbrella of the nonprofit The Health Partnership based in Steamboat Springs, researched a healthcare need in the community and stepped in to help. Choose When kicked off in April 2017, following a well-attended public introduction event at Bud Werner Memorial Library Hall in March that year. The room was packed with local residents, the majority women.
In fall 2016, the steering committee talked to health care groups and reviewed community health needs assessment survey results. They heard repeated concerns about unintended pregnancies and that LARC funding was no longer available following successful statewide funding from 2009 to 2015.
“I think Choose When is excellent because it identified a gap in our community. Insurance sometimes won’t cover long-term contraception. It helps bridge that gap,” said Dr. Audrey Klawiter, a family medical physician at Northwest Colorado Health.
Wasserman explained the organization funds effective LARC options, or long-acting reversible contraception, such as hormonal implants in arms that can last three years or both hormone-based or hormone-free IUDs, or intrauterine devices, to make birth control a simpler step for women. LARC may not be affordable for women who fall into the gap of making too much money for Medicaid and not being able to afford private health insurance.
Klawiter said IUDs have “come a long way” since they were introduced and now “are effective over 99%, and side effects are pretty minimal.” The doctor said even with the sliding scale rates at Northwest Colorado Health, the LARC options could cost $800 or more, which can be a prohibitive upfront cost for many patients. Or, the cost of about $1,200 may not be covered on high-deductible private insurance plans, she said.
“The women who need this help the most are the women who are already stressed financially and/or emotionally. An unintended pregnancy can be a real life-changer for them.” – Kathleen Wasserman, Choose When steering committee co-chair
The physician said patients utilizing Choose When range from teenagers starting birth control, to women engaged in family planning who want to space out pregnancies or are finished with child birth. Choose When records show about half of clients are 29 and older, and about half already have at least one child.
The physician said there is a current medical emphasis on long-term birth control methods “because they are effective for people so they don’t have to remember or don’t end up with unplanned pregnancies.”
“The group that started Choose When are all women involved in the community in many different ways,” said Wasserman, a retired litigator who has lived in Steamboat Springs for 15 years. “We all see the economic stresses that working families are under in this area; housing, medical costs, inflation. We just want women to be able to manage their own lives.”
In 2007, a private funder chose to invest $27 million in expanding family planning services in Colorado to reduce unintended pregnancy, according to a 2017 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Colorado Family Planning Initiative.
“With a committed donor and experienced family planning professionals, the state’s teen birth and abortion rates were cut in half in just five years,” the CDPHE report noted. “Women who are not ready to have babies can face poor health outcomes for themselves and their children, may not complete school, struggle to advance their careers and rely more on public assistance.”
In this day of abortion controversy in some U.S. states, Wasserman said Choose When makes effective birth control affordable, which essentially avoids the issue or need for abortion.
Choose When has a 10-member board and an annual funding need of $60,000 to $70,000. For more information: ChooseWhen.org
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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