Kicking Planned Parenthood out of the Texas Women’s Health Program proved to be a terrible idea in 2013, one that jeopardized the health of women and babies, reduced access to health care, and increased costs for the state. In Texas we’re usually good about learning from our mistakes, but not so much where women’s health is concerned.
On October 19 the Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General announced its intention to terminate Planned Parenthood’s participation in the Texas Medicaid program. For many low-income women on Medicaid, Planned Parenthood is the primary provider for annual well-woman exams, cancer screenings, and contraception. Based on the actual outcomes from the state’s previous actions to limit access to family planning, advocates expect that this move will have terrible consequences for women and babies.
In 2011, the legislature decimated state funding for family planning. As a result, 82 Texas clinics closed or stopped providing family planning services and the remaining clinics served far fewer women. The decrease in access to preventive services directly increased Medicaid costs for the state. When the state axed Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program in 2013, it further crippled the ailing family planning safety net in Texas.
Planned Parenthood had provided more than 40 percent of all services in the Women’s Health Program. When removing the provider from the program, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) made an overly optimistic prediction that other providers were ready, willing, and able to take on all of Planned Parenthood’s clients, and then some. But actual experience proved otherwise. HHSC’s own analysis shows that after cutting Planned Parenthood and in conjunction with other blows to the safety net, services provided through the Texas Women’s Health program dropped 26 percent statewide from 2011 to 2013. In parts of west Texas, services declined by more than 50 percent.
Experience shows that eliminating a significant women’s health provider harms women’s access to care, especially in parts of the state where few other resources exist. History shows that alternative providers weren’t fully able to fill the gaps in 2013. There is no reason to expect they can now, despite the state’s familiar insistence to the contrary.
Losing access to well-woman exams and contraception jeopardizes the health of women and babies. And it limits women’s ability to improve their families’ financial stability by planning the timing and size of their family. With more than half of all pregnancies in Texas unplanned and more than half of all births paid for by Medicaid, the state should be expanding, not restricting, access to vital women’s preventive health care.
Texas is playing politics with women’s health. Again.