For Texas women, access to family planning and basic health care isn’t a women’s issue or political issue; it’s a family issue. If the Legislature truly wants to invest in the future of our state and make life better for all families, lawmakers must adequately fund basic women’s health care and contraceptive services, and they must make sure Texas has enough providers to deliver those services.
Preventive care and contraception for all Texas women is essential for their families’ well-being, from preparing women for healthy pregnancies to detecting health problems early, just a Pap smear at Planned Parenthood that found precancerous cells did for 32-year-old Austinite Amy Kamp. Giving women the ability to plan the timing and size of their families is crucial to ensuring Texas families can remain economically stable, escape poverty and join the middle class, just as access to birth control at a South Texas health clinic did for Anavi Cantu, a working mom of three who’s also a student. Cancer and wellness screenings such as Pap smears and breast exams keep women healthy so that they can work, go to school and continue providing for their children.
After the Legislature made cuts to the family planning program in 2011, there are more than 140,000 low-income Texas women — working moms, single women, and female college students — with nowhere to turn for the care they need.
The loss of $73 million in funding for the state’s family planning program forced at least 53 clinics across the state to close their doors, while others laid off workers and drastically reduced hours or are now charging for once-free services. Four clinics in Austin lost the majority, if not all, state funding through the family planning program. People’s Community Clinic has been forced to increase the cost of birth control for women after the state cut all its funding through the program. Rural communities across Texas have been hit hard as well — some have lost the only family planning provider they had, and now low-income women are paying out of pocket for services or have to travel for hours to get the care they need.
The 2011 cuts to family planning services have only created a greater need in Texas. According to a recent Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition brief, more than 1 million Texas women between the ages of 20 and 44 needed publicly-supported health care and contraception, but even before the cuts, only approximately 341,000 were served. Since 2011, the unmet need has only increased and will continue to grow if the Legislature doesn’t restore funding. As a state, we should be talking about giving women all the opportunities possible for contraception and health care.
Funding, though, is just one piece of the puzzle; provider capacity is also in jeopardy. Because of recent state rule changes, the number of providers participating in the Women’s Health Program — which is different from the one that took the budget hit in 2011 — has been drastically reduced. Planned Parenthood health centers (which were the single largest Women’s Health Program provider) can no longer serve program patients under the new rule, and serious questions remain as to whether the clinics still participating can handle more patients.
No matter which way you slice it, though, fewer providers makes it harder for women to access health care. Instead of talking about ways to decrease the number of providers treating women, we as state should be talking about how to recruit more providers to treat more women.
Without funding or enough providers, more Texas women will lose out on contraceptive services, and that means more will have unintended pregnancies. And women and their families aren’t the only ones who carry the cost burden. Unplanned pregnancies cost the state of Texas $1.3 billion in Medicaid costs each year. The budget cuts are projected to increase Medicaid costs by at least $136 million by 2015. Contraception, in contrast, is much cheaper for both the state and Texas women.
This Wednesday, the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition, of which the Center for Public Policy Priorities is a member, is hosting an Advocacy Day to spread the word to lawmakers about Texas’ women’s health care crisis. The Texas Legislature must act now to ensure the health and well-being of all Texas women and their families, and that means adequately funding family planning services and ensuring there are enough providers to deliver those services.
Ultimately, the conversation around preventive care and contraceptive services should be about getting Texas women the essential care they need that allows them to create the healthiest, most productive lives for themselves and their children.
By Alexa Garcia-Ditta, Center for Public Policy Priorities