Report: Texas Women's Health Program Hit Hard
Thousands fewer women served by Texas Women's Health Program
By Mary Tuma, Fri., April 3, 2015
A new report confirms what reproductive health advocates predicted when Texas officials decided to kick Planned Parenthood out of a lifesaving, preventative Medicaid program: Far fewer women are being served.
While more than 200,000 women were enrolled in the original Women's Health Program in 2011, that figure dropped by 9% after Planned Parenthood – the dominant provider, serving about 40% of the 130,000 clients – was forced out of the program for ideological, anti-choice reasons. Even fewer women actually utilized the program, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission report. In 2011, more than 115,000 women filed a WHP Medicaid claim; for 2013 that number fell to 85,619, a 25.7% reduction. The Central (–40%) and West Texas (–64%) regions were most significantly affected. The report notes that the reduction in the number of women served is "due, in part, to the change in the provider base" that occurred with the 2012 exclusion of abortion providers and affiliates.
Women are also seeing less access to contraceptives – all claims for birth control (LARC, injection, pills, and condoms) dropped from 2011 to 2013. The WHP, created in 2005 and implemented in 2007, was designed, in part, with the specific intention to reduce unplanned pregnancy and curb Medicaid births – and save taxpayer money, as more than half of Texas births are covered by Medicaid – by widening access to contraception for low-income women. The program also offers well-woman exams, STI tests, and cancer screenings for uninsured women ages 18-44.
In other news, a NARAL Pro-Choice Texas study released just days after the HHSC report found that the list of providers on the TWHP website was rife with duplicates and false listings (including a sandwich shop and a personal cell phone number). As of this February, only 16.6% of the phone numbers listed on the state site reached women's health care providers accepting new TWHP patients – suggesting errors that have plagued the provider database for more than two years have not been fully corrected.
In 2012, conservative state officials sought to punish abortion provider Planned Parenthood (despite the fact that PP keeps its abortion services wholly separate from other services) by excluding PP from the joint federal-state program. As a result, Texas was in violation of federal law and lost its 9-1 federal matching funds. Some 50,000 low-income women were left scrambling to find new providers. While PP fought against the rule in court, the Texas GOP ultimately succeeded in banishing the provider. Now, all signs show a substantial dip in the number of women served.
"All the concerns we had are evident in this report," Sarah Wheat, vice president of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told the Chronicle. "This was a successful federal-state partnership that provided preventative health care so women could stay healthy and plan and space their pregnancies. And it was completely dismantled to achieve purely political goals."
The Lege is renewing its efforts to punish the abortion provider this session by threatening to create tiers for breast and cervical cancer funding in a way that leaves Planned Parenthood last in line – the consequences of which are predicted to be dire. The reproductive health network has sought to push back by launching a "Save our Screenings" campaign, to mobilize advocates and educate Texans on the Senate proposal.
"This new data is a roadmap of what it's going to look like if lawmakers persist in their latest political scheme for the breast and cervical cancer screening program," said Wheat. "We can see what happens when lawmakers place politics first – thousands of women go without basic health care."
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.