Texas women‘s health care has been in crisis since the 2011 Legislature made deep and disproportionate cuts to the state’s family planning program. The women’s health “safety net” is in tatters, and unplanned Medicaid births are costing taxpayers $33 million in fiscal year 2013 alone.
The good news is that the Texas Legislature is poised to increase funding for preventive care, which will help restore access, rebuild the safety net, and reduce Medicaid costs.
Around the state, at least 53 clinics have closed — most of which were not Planned Parenthood clinics — and 147,000 low-income women lost access to vital cancer screenings, examinations and contraception. These are the services that help women stay healthy, plan for healthy pregnancies, and avoid unplanned pregnancy.
Local health departments, academic medical centers, community health centers and family planning clinics have all been affected by the cuts. Many of the contractors that have managed to survive have reduced services, and most have restricted access to the most effective — and more expensive — contraceptive methods.
The cuts affected all regions of the state. In counties like San Saba, Lampasas, Coryell, Bosque, Bell and McLennan, there are no state-funded family planning providers. Poor women in need of preventive services in these areas must pay a private doctor or drive long distances to find care.
Fortunately, both the Texas House and Senate have prioritized women’s health and made great strides toward restoring funding. Both chambers’ budget bills continue the Texas Women’s Health Program and fund contraceptive care through Community Primary Care. The House version of the budget reaches full restoration of women’s health funding by adding to the Family Planning program.
Even with full funding restored, challenges remain. Rebuilding the safety net will be slower and more arduous than was cutting it. Exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics means that providers in the state program must increase their preventive care services for women, and the state will have to monitor the number of providers and amount of services available to ensure that women in all areas of the state have access.
The Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition appreciates the Legislature’s bipartisan efforts to restore access to family planning for low-income Texas women. Our 39 members — including health care, public policy and faith-based organizations — urge the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee to adopt the House’s higher funding recommendation so preventive care and family planning services for Texas women are fully restored.
Once Texas gets back to building access to women’s health care, we can forestall progression of undetected breast and cervical cancer, prevent complications of undetected diabetes and high blood pressure, reduce the occurrence of unplanned pregnancy, and improve the health of women and their babies.
Restoring access to family planning will mean better health, lower tax costs, and better futures for Texas families.
by Dr. Janet Realini is chair of the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.