Calling the Republican health-care cuts an unfair burden on low-income Americans, family planning proponents confronted Rep. Denny Rehberg on Monday.

Speaking at a Rehberg town hall meeting at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, supporters of Planned Parenthood balked at GOP plans to eliminate all $327 million from Title X, a program that provides contraception, cancer screenings and other services mostly to low-income women.

Though Planned Parenthood supporters have called the cut a backdoor maneuver to defund clinics that also provide abortions, Rehberg said defunding Title X was about eliminating duplicate services.

“Over the years, we noticed there were women who were already being served by Medicaid,” Rehberg told the crowd of about 40 people gathered at Rocky Mountain College.

Rehberg’s explanation didn’t set well with Bev Hilario, who handles insurance billing for Planned Parenthood in Billings.

“What about all the women who fall through the cracks, who don’t qualify for Medicaid?” Hilario asked.

Low-income women who don’t qualify for Medicaid rely on Title X for breast and cervical exams, HIV tests and other basic care. Now 40 years old, the program was originally intended to prevent unintended pregnancies.

At the town hall meeting, the subject quickly shifted to exactly what level of services the government should be providing, with Rehberg explaining that the government can’t afford to provide all the services it has to this point. Those comments played well with the mostly Republican audience sitting to Rehberg’s left, who said people need to do more for themselves.

“We need to help the people who really need help, but there are a lot who really need to help themselves more,” said Dan Palin, of Billings. “I know people who will take government help and choose not to work.”

Palin’s remarks drew applause from some, but other Planned Parenthood supporters said that not providing basic family planning to low-income people was likely to increase unplanned pregnancies and assure a rough start in life for many young people.

Rehberg, who let the crowd chart the meeting’s course, said there was common ground to be had on health care, namely because Republicans and Democrats both see problems with it.

However, partisan differences on the health-care-reform legislation passed by Democrats in 2010 are vast.

“I think everybody agrees that our health-care system has changes that need to be made,” Rehberg said. “But they fundamentally changed the whole system when (all) those changes didn’t need to be made.”

Rehberg chairs the appropriations subcommittee that covers health. In that role, he has taken the lead in defunding the health-care reforms passed by Democrats in 2010.

Rehberg last month proposed not paying the salary of any government employee working for an agency implementing the new health-care law. The proposal only applies to the remaining months of this year’s federal budget, which is still being decided.

But there are limits to how much can be defunded, Rehberg said. Republicans have been able to cut discretionary funding related to health-care reform, but mandatory funding has been off-limits.

Contact Tom Lutey at or 657-1288.


Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.