Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to decide on a number of health policies that will have a very real impact on people here in Maine, such as whether to rip health care away from thousands of Mainers by repealing the Affordable Care Act, or whether to block Medicaid patients from receiving basic health care at Planned Parenthood.

As a health care provider who has worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years, I know firsthand that Planned Parenthood health centers are an irreplaceable resource for women, men and young people in our community. Each year, our health centers in Maine provide lifesaving health care, including cancer screenings, birth control and disease testing and treatment, to about 10,000 people. Our motto is care no matter what. We see patients regardless of their ZIP code, income, race, immigration status or gender identity. Our patient-centered care means we are open evenings and weekends and are able to see people the same day or next day for an appointment.

I, along with the entire Planned Parenthood of Northern New England staff, work hard to ensure that our patients and their families are always able to access affordable, high-quality health care in a safe and caring environment.

As the health care home for our patients we treat a wide array of issues in an effort to improve their health and well-being. Sixty-six percent of our patients live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Most are uninsured or underinsured and our health centers are their only access to care.

Here in Maine, we provide affordable birth control and family planning counseling to more than 7,000 people a year. Last year, we provided more than 1,000 Pap tests, 1,300 breast exams and nearly 20,000 STI tests and treated countless other primary care needs from smoking cessation to vaccinations to wellness exams.

Behind each of these numbers is a story. A patient. A person.

These are people like Miranda, who wrote, “Planned Parenthood has always been a judgment-free experience for me. I have always felt 100 percent comfortable talking with the friendly staff about any issues I have had, whether they be physical or mental.”

Leah, who was sexually assaulted in high school: “It was such a shameful experience for me, but I went to Planned Parenthood so that I could take care of myself,” she said. “Because I didn’t know how to tell my parents or my primary care doctor – even my gynecologist – the health care providers who helped me at Planned Parenthood were my only line of defense against what had happened to my body. If I hadn’t been able to go to Planned Parenthood for help, I don’t know where I would have gone.”

And Stephanie, who had a bad reaction to the birth control implant she received at her doctor’s office. She went to the emergency room and was told she needed to have the implant removed. When she called her doctor, she was told her doctor couldn’t remove it for two weeks. So she called Planned Parenthood and we were able to treat her the next day. “If it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood, I would be in massive pain and probably be put back in the hospital,” Stephanie said.

Miranda, Leah, and Stephanie are not alone. Across the state, nearly 1 in 3 women have visited a Planned Parenthood health center for care.

For many in Maine and across the country, we are the sole access to care. Which is why it is frustrating to hear politicians repeatedly claim that other health care providers would be able to step into a gap of this magnitude and serve Planned Parenthood patients. It’s simply not true.

In fact, Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, has said it is “ludicrous” that providers like community health centers could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients.

Yet today, the House of Representatives will likely vote to prevent Planned Parenthood health centers from being reimbursed for care provided to Medicaid patients.

Since more than 25 percent of our patients in Maine are on Medicaid, the effects would be devastating. This is cruel, discriminatory and defies decades of medical and public health expertise.

Our leaders in Congress have the responsibility to keep Americans safe and healthy. Without a doubt, cutting access to Planned Parenthood will put lives at risk.

Our elected leaders must reject any attempt to cut off millions of women from their trusted, irreplaceable health care provider and access to lifesaving preventive care.