Texans suffer under continued attacks on women’s health funding

Photo by John Jordan

Recently, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would no longer be calling for a vote on the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a bill that included a provision to block people with Medicaid coverage from accessing preventive health care at Planned Parenthood health centers. Women and men across the country sent a clear message that they did not support this dangerous bill.

In Texas, we’ve seen firsthand the devastating consequences when politicians block access to care. According to a report by the state’s own health department, nearly 30,000 fewer women received birth control, cancer screenings and other care from the Texas Women’s Health Program after the state barred Planned Parenthood’s participation in the program in 2011. A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that blocking patients from going to Planned Parenthood in Texas was associated with a 35 percent decline in women in publicly funded programs using the most effective methods of birth control — and a dramatic 27 percent increase in the number of births among women who had previously accessed injectable contraception through those programs.

In 2015, the state announced plans to ban Medicaid recipients from receiving care at Planned Parenthood health centers. A recent preliminary injunction from a federal court ensured that the 11,000 patients Planned Parenthood health centers serve through Medicaid can continue to receive health care through their provider of choice — at least for the time being.

Despite the harm the state has already caused to Texas women, legislators continue their relentless attacks on access to health care.

Preliminary Texas Senate and House budget plans show that both chambers plan to renew provisions barring Planned Parenthood from providing services through the Healthy Texas Women program and the state's Breast and Cervical Cancer Services (BCCS) program. Going a step further, a broadly written rider in the Senate budget by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, seeks to prevent Planned Parenthood’s participation in any taxpayer-funded programs as well as any future programs.

Without Planned Parenthood, many patients have nowhere else to go for care. More than half of Planned Parenthood’s health centers are in underserved communities. The notion that other providers can absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients and provide comparable care has been resoundingly dismissed by experts, and is reflected in the state’s own data. Last session, the Legislature targeted Planned Parenthood’s successful 20-plus year participation in the state’s BCCS program, and despite claims that other providers were able to bridge the gap, there is still no permanent provider in Waco. In 2015, Planned Parenthood served approximately 10 percent of the state’s BCCS clients.

At the end of 2015, the state abruptly ended funding to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s HIV Prevention Program, where HIV testing and prevention services had been provided since 1988. Though the state promised yet again that there would not be an interruption in coverage, six months later, Harris County health department — the alternative provider — had not provided a single HIV test. During this time, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast would have provided 2,900 HIV tests and distributed around 165,000 condoms.

After excluding Planned Parenthood from its latest iteration of a woman’s health program, Healthy Texas Women, the state awarded $1.6 million to an anti-abortion organization to connect low-income women to health care providers. A recent investigation by the Associated Press showed that since the award, the Heidi Group has not followed through on promises to air public service announcements, set up a 1-800 number to help women find providers, or ensure that other clinics keep updated websites. In fact, the Heidi Group’s president, Carol Everett, admitted that  “it’s not as easy as it looks because we’re not Planned Parenthood.

It is more evident now than ever that the Legislature’s ultimate goal is not to protect women’s health but instead to impose its extremist ideological agenda onto women and ultimately ban abortion.

Years of hostile policies have already left tens of thousands of Texas women without access to cancer screenings, birth control, HIV tests and other preventive care. It’s time for politicians to get serious about helping Texans access quality, affordable health care and allow Planned Parenthood health centers to fully participate in Texas’ health safety net.

Yvonne Gutierrez

Executive director, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes