In a year defined by the war on Planned Parenthood, Texas set the example in attacks against the women’s health organization. Not only did the state drastically reduce the state’s family planning funding from $111 million to just $37 million, but Republican lawmakers constructed a “tiered priority system” that ensured Planned Parenthood clinics would be the last to receive any of the remaining Title X federal funding. But Texas clinics can receive funding via another route: the state Women’s Health Program (WHP). Created in 2007, the Medicaid-funded program “provides family planning and primary care to low-income, uninsured women, and it served nearly 125,000 people in 2010 alone.”
So this year, GOP lawmakers decided to insert language into a new Medicaid measure that bans any family planning clinic that is even “affiliated” with an abortion provider from receiving WHP funds. Even though Planned Parenthood “corporately separated its abortion services from its family planning services in 2005,” Republicans wanted the fact that these (strictly family planning) clinics are “affiliated” with organization to disqualify them and asked the Department of Health and Human Services to let the state exclude the clinics accordingly.
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services delivered it’s answer: No, as doing so “would violate the Social Security Act” which guarantees that a Medicaid patient can obtain health services from any qualified agency. But instead of accepting the decision, health advocates say Republicans may cancel the WHP program entirely out of spite, leaving at least 130,000 low-income Texas women without services:
But Fran Hagerty, chief executive of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, characterized the federal decision — which extends the program for three months while state officials decide whether to back down from their request — as “the ugliest possible scenario.” She fears the state will opt to end the Women’s Health Program rather than allow Planned Parenthood to continue to be part of it, and that 130,000 low-income women may end up losing out on cancer screenings and birth control.[...]
On Tuesday, state health officials said they would consult with Attorney General Greg Abbott to determine how to proceed. But Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t appear to be in a compromising mood. In a statement from the campaign trail, he said Texas is “committed to protecting life in Texas, and state law prohibits giving state dollars to abortion providers and affiliates — a fact the Obama Administration ignores.”
If state officials decide to forgo the Women’s Health Program in protest, Hagerty said major hospitals like the University of Texas Medical Branch and Parkland in Dallas would be able to maintain some semblance of family planning services, “but nothing like what we have now.” If the program does not extend past March, Hagerty said, community clinics would have to dramatically reduce services, lay off employees or shut down completely.
The program was created as a five year program and is set to expire on December 31. The HHS decision extends WHP for three more months, but Republicans are not accepting HHS’s ruling on the matter. The Texas Humans and Health Services Commission, which requested the waiver, said HHS’s decision is “inconsistent with federal law that gives states the authority to establish qualifications for Medicaid providers.”
State Sen. Robert Deuell (R) said it’s Planned Parenthood’s fault for supporting a constitutionally-protected right. “The problem could be solved tomorrow if Planned Parenthood just renounces abortions and just does family planning and comprehensive care, which they’re capable of,” he said. “Then we could provide a lot of family planning and there wouldn’t be abortions and this problem would go away.”
As the Dallas Observer’s Anna Merlen notes, the program has “served 235,000 women so far and saved the state more than $37.6 million during its first two years by helping women avoid otherwise costly unplanned pregnancies.” Currently, 28 percent of Texas women are uninsured, and without these clinics to provide necessary health care, the health care access problem for women is only going to get worse.