Budget Deal Evicts Planned Parenthood From Cancer Program

Under new budget, Planned Parenthood removed from cancer program

Planned Parenthood would be ousted from a life-saving cancer program if budget negotiators have their way.
Planned Parenthood would be ousted from a life-saving cancer program if budget negotiators have their way. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Low-income, insured women would no longer be able to turn to Planned Parenthood for state-supported breast and cervical cancer screenings, under a newly released budget compromise.

The Senate first proposed tiering the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services (BCCS) program funding in a way that would force Planned Parenthood to the back of the line by prioritizing other providers first. Over its two decades-long history serving some 45,000 women, the program has been instrumental in preventing advanced stages of cancer for program participants, as the Chronicle previously reported.

While the initial priority funding plan was scrapped, the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee have instead picked another route that leads to the same place. The updated language removes Planned Parenthood from the program by stipulating providers must be eligible for the Texas Women’s Health Program – a strategic way to ensure the health network doesn’t receive those funds. That’s because three years ago, in an all too-familiar move, anti-choice Texas officials booted out Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid-based Women’s Health Program, which offers preventative services including cancer screenings and contraception, leading to the immediate exclusion of some 50,000 low-income, uninsured women. The ideological rule ended up causing the state to give up around $30 million in federal-state matching grants. Since the PP exclusion, thousands fewer women receive care through the new health program. A report released this year by the Texas Health and Human Ser­vices Commission found that 30,000 fewer women received health care from the program in 2013 than in 2011, when the provider was still part of the program.

The new rider also includes a provision that makes sure if the state health department cannot locate a "sufficient number of eligible providers in a certain region," it may "compensate other local providers for the provision of breast and cervical cancer screening services." (However, what determines a "sufficient" number remains unclear.)

The Texas Legislature’s agreed-upon budget does what Senate budget writers intended from the outset. "There are many members that feel very strongly that the facilities that receive that funding should not be facilities that are performing abortions, so the answer is: Don't perform abortions and you get the money," chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, told reporters in January, when the first plan was introduced.

"What we have seen in recent studies is what we know to be true, when Planned Parenthood is cut out of a provider network, a significant number of Texas women lose access to care," said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. "This decision to remove Planned Parenthood from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program will mean less women will be able to detect and treat their cancer early. The Texas Legislature has, without shame, put the lives of Texas women at risk."

The program aims to assist uninsured women over 18 years of age who earn income up to 200% of the federal poverty level – offering clinical breast exams, mammograms, pelvic and HPV exams, biopsies, and Pap tests to prevent and detect cancer in its earliest stages. Texas holds one of the country's highest incident and mortality rates of cervical cancer, according to the CDC. Planned Parenthood serves about 10% of all program clients a year. More than 15,000 women have signed a petition calling on the Texas Legislature to keep the trusted provider in the program, but that has apparently fallen on deaf ears.

“Once again, Texas legislators have ignored their constituents and jeopardized the lives of Texas women," said Gutierrez. "We will fight this shameful attack and we will never back down from our mission to provide Texans the quality, affordable care they need.”

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