New Coalition to Push for Women's Health
A group of heavy-hitters steps up to the plate
As the legislative session gets under way, serious questions persist about the future of women's health care funding – and there's a new player in town ready with a cure for the state's family-planning woes: Fully fund family planning and preventive care, says Dr. Janet Realini of the newly formed Texas Women's Healthcare Coalition, and Texas will save millions.
Even before lawmakers slashed Texas' family planning budget in 2011, those funds were only serving a fraction of women in need of services. Full funding for women's health care, to cover all women in need of services, is a goal of the new coalition. Keeping families planned and healthy would actually save the state "lots of money," says Realini, a veteran and well-respected family physician who, with her San Antonio-based Healthy Futures of Texas nonprofit dedicated to reducing unplanned and teen pregnancy, is among the founding members of the coalition.
The TWHC is made up of heavy-hitters from across the state – including the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, the Methodist Healthcare Ministries, Texas Association of Community Health Centers, and Center for Public Policy Priorities – that came together in response to the destruction of the family planning budget and the threat of lost federal funding for the Women's Health Program.
The number of women served by the state's family planning program last year declined 63% as a result of the budget cuts – from 202,968 clients served in 2011 to just 75,160 served in 2012 – and the cuts have forced 60 providers across the state to shutter their operations. While the state did lose 90% federal funding for the WHP by refusing to allow Planned Parenthood's participation, it has launched a rebranded, state-funded Texas WHP – though whether that program is capable of handling the more than 103,000 women who in 2012 received care under the federally funded program (let alone the more than 200,000 who were enrolled and eligible for care) remains to be seen.
When the family planning program was fully funded, it was still serving only roughly one-third of 1 million women ages 20-44 who are in need of services, and one in three Texas women of childbearing age has no health insurance, Realini notes, more than any other state. To ensure that each of those women has access to basic care would cost roughly $218 million per year, Realini says, based on an average of $205 per woman, per year under a fully funded family planning program. "That's really what the need is."
Focusing money on preventive and "preconception" care ensures healthy and wanted families and saves the state millions, says Realini. Coalition members will seek to focus lawmakers' attention not on "things that will divide people" – like advocating for Planned Parenthood or for reproductive choice – but on "building up the positive, common ground, that prevention is the first step," Realini says. "To focus on that helps women, families, and the state."