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Fiscal Conservatism, Texas Style? Texas Family Planning Program Now Serves Fewer Clients for More Money

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Texans are now getting far fewer family planning services at a higher cost than ever, according to documents submitted to the Department of State Health Services council this week. Just 75,160 low-income clients received publicly-funded family planning services in fiscal year 2012, compared to 211,980 in fiscal year 2010. That was before conservative Texas lawmakers slashed money-saving family planning funds in their 2011 legislative session.

That means Texas is spending more money — about $37 per person — to serve fewer than half the clients it saw two years ago.

This is fiscal conservatism? This is good money management?

This is Texas.

As Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle reports, a new funding matrix barred specialty family planning providers — the matrix targeted Planned Parenthood, the most efficient provider of family planning in the state — from receiving Title X family planning money and privileged funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are far less cost-effective than other providers.

But there’s hope: a coalition of reproductive health care providers in Texas is taking a new tactic when it comes to the state’s drastic family planning cuts and attempts to push Planned Parenthood out of the Medicaid Women’s Health Program: they’re going to apply directly to the federal government for Title X (family planning) grant money. If they get the funds, they state health department and the Texas legislature will no longer get to play politics with women’s health. Reports the Texas Observer:

If the coalition wins the federal grant — called Title X (Title 10) — a slice of Texas’ family planning money would no longer go to the state health department — and would no longer be subject to the whims of the Legislature. Instead, the coalition, organized by Fran Hagerty of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, would distribute the money to family planning providers statewide, including perhaps Planned Parenthood, and restore services to tens of thousands of Texans.

Coalition leader Hagerty told the Observershe wants as many health care providers as possible to sign on to the grant proposal to ensure their funding if they’re successful. Planned Parenthood hasn’t publicly said it’s part of the coalition, but it has been a major target of state lawmakers and bureaucrats who’ve been working to ban it from participating in the WHP.

If the state continues to mismanage its family planning funds–what little it has to work with, thanks to Republican lawmakers–and see such a steep decline in services provided to the low-income Texans that need them the most, Texas can likely look forward to more Medicaid-funded births and higher costs overall for taxpayers.

If Texas conservatives want to save money and reduce abortions that result from unwanted pregnancies, the numbers show that they’re doing everything wrong.

Hearing on Planned Parenthood and Texas’ Women’s Health Program Pits Science, Health Against Ideology

11:19 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

(image: AnonMoos / wikimedia)

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Read the rest of Andrea’s coverage of women’s health issues in Texas here and the rest of our coverage on the Texas Women’s Health Program here.

Yesterday, in a packed auditorium at the Texas Department of State Health Services, legislators and supporters of Planned Parenthood in Texas gathered to speak out against proposed rules that would bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the state’s Women’s Health Program, through which PP-Texas has provided the lion’s share of family planning services to low-income women. The new rules are fueled by right-wing lawmakers who want to forgo the available 90 percent of federal funding for the program in order to keep Planned Parenthood–and any other so-called “abortion affiliate”–from providing care via the WHP.

“This is not the better course for a program that is this important,” Texas Sen. Kirk Watson told a panel of DSHS officials. Watson and a group of 24 other Democratic lawmakers requested the public hearing, with Watson calling out DSHS for a “lack of transparency” at yesterday’s meeting. DSHS told RH Reality Check that they called the hearing at the request of lawmakers and also as the result of an online petition from Planned Parenthood supporters.

While a law banning abortion affiliates has been on the books in Texas since 2005, DSHS began enforcing the law this year, excluding the largest provider of WHP services in the state: Planned Parenthood.

“Preventing Planned Parenthood from participating in the Women’s Health Program forces thousands of women to seek alternative providers at the very time we significantly cut the family planning budget in the state,” argued Texas Rep. Donna Howard, referring to the separate but significant cuts in family planning made in 2011.

At the nearly four-hour meeting, forty speakers, including University of Texas reproductive health researchers and community clinic doctors not affiliated with Planned Parenthood, argued in favor of the group’s continued participation in the WHP. Many women spoke through tears about the exams and screenings at Planned Parenthood that had saved them from cervical cancer or allowed them to hold down jobs and school responsibilities when they were struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s really degrading, sitting in a doctor’s office trying to make a decision on whether to pay your utility bill or get medical treatment,” testified one Planned Parenthood supporter. Another spoke up for the accessibility of Planned Parenthood, which could see her more quickly than her regular doctor, at whose office she couldn’t afford to get the treatment she needed.

“Even a week can feel like a really long time when you’re wondering if you have cancer,” said the woman.

Others took more logistical approaches, citing the obvious financial benefits of maintaining a funding structure that tremendously benefits money-strapped Texas. If it excludes Planned Parenthood from the program, Texas is responsible for funding 100 percent of a program it had previously only funded at 10 percent–and officials have said they believe they can provide the same quality of care, despite the state’s budget woes. That didn’t jibe with speaker Sheila Sorvari.

“For all of us who are paying attention and can basically do the math, it’s clear the money doesn’t add up,” she said in an impassioned and occasionally sarcastic speech that drew wild applause from the audience. “I don’t know what’s wrong with our legislators that they’ve decided that facts and data and logic no longer have a place in Texas.”

Sorvari also didn’t buy the line that excluding Planned Parenthood from the WHP wouldn’t affect access to providers

“Offer everyone a door-to-door car service,” she suggested to DSHS, if women were now going to be asked to avoid the Planned Parenthood clinics closest to their homes.

A handful of anti-Planned Parenthood speakers attended the meeting, including notorious Planned Parenthood defector Abby Johnson, who has made a career out of her role as a former clinic director.

“There are no doctors at Planned Parenthood health centers,” she said, claiming that Planned Parenthood provides Medicaid-funded abortions on demand at every clinic. She gave her speech over murmers of a crowd quietly grumbling and contradicting her at every opportunity.

The final minutes of the meeting were dominated by anti-Planned Parenthood speakers who took the opportunity to rail not only against abortion but against the evils of birth control.

“It’s synthetic,” said one woman, who said she didn’t understand why women would poison their bodies with contraception. Another woman said she knew abortion was wrong because, as a sidewalk protestor outside abortion clinics, she’d seen women who’d just gotten abortions and “they don’t look very good at all.”

Most everyone who spoke thanked DSHS for hearing their concerns, especially Scott Braddock, a Texas broadcast journalist who spoke out in favor of Planned Parenthood, which he said had saved his friend’s life.

“Can you hear me?” Braddock said into the auditorium’s microphone. “Because there are too many women not being heard here.”

Will Low-Income Women in Texas Find Care Without Planned Parenthood? An Analysis of the System Says the Answer is No

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

While the State of Texas battles in court for what it says is its right to exclude Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP) there, the Texas Health and Human Services commission is sending mixed messages to the more than 50,000 women who currently rely on Planned Parenthood for their care through the WHP.

Instead of waiting for the courts to decide whether Planned Parenthood, considered by the state of Texas to be an “abortion affiliate,” can participate in WHP, the state’s HHSC last week sent out a mailer to 100,000 low-income women enrolled in the program advising them that Planned Parenthood could no longer provide WHP services — despite the fact that it has not yet been excluded.

The mailer directed women to the new Texas Women’s Health Program website, which initially excluded Planned Parenthood from its provider listings, which have since been amended to include Planned Parenthood clinics. The site is meant to help WHP enrollees find doctors who will provide reproductive and contraceptive care, and at first glance appears to shore up Governor Rick Perry’s claims that the WHP would do just fine without Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that it provides services to half of the WHP’s members.

Governor Perry’s office and anti-choice lawmakers in the state have rallied behind the claim that “There are more than 2,500 qualified providers in the WHP that operate more than 4,600 locations across the state,” downplaying the significant role Planned Parenthood plays in bringing WHP access to low-income women. What Perry’s office doesn’t mention is that most of those providers are small clinics and individual doctors that aren’t currently equipped to take on the tens of thousands of women who will have to leave Planned Parenthood should the courts rule in favor of the State of Texas.

RH Reality Check set out to test the WHP’s non-Planned Parenthood provider listings over the past week and found that while initial searches of TexasWomensHealth.org turn up what appear to be hundreds of available providers, many of them don’t provide any kind of contraceptive care, don’t take Medicaid Women’s Health Program clients, or are simply misleading duplicate listings.

In Austin, for example, many WHP clients visit the Downtown Austin Clinic for contraceptives and cancer screenings. What if a resident of the 78702 zip code who formerly relied on Planned Parenthood had to suddenly find a new doctor?
Read the rest of this entry →

At Wits’ End: One Woman’s Story Highlights Texas Women Left In Limbo As Legal Battle Over Planned Parenthood Begins

11:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Women and their allies gather at the Texas State Capitol.

The Medicaid Women’s Health Program in Texas was working wonderfully for Christina LuQuis and her family until January of this year, when she found herself caught in the middle of Texas’ political fight to oust Planned Parenthood from the state’s federally-funded Medicaid program. In need of fast, affordable health care when complications surfaced with her IUD in January, LuQuis discovered that the system she’d relied on for years—the system that had served her and her family so well—might be taken away from her. Three months later, “might” has turned into a sure thing. Now, LuQuis says she’s “at wits’ end.”

After LuQuis and her husband had a daughter three years ago, they decided to look into hormone-free, semi-permanent birth control. An IUD seemed like the best option—except for the cost, which LuQuis found out could be as much as $750, much more than they could afford. That’s when she found out about the WHP.

“The paperwork wasn’t too much of a hassle and after a few weeks my Medicaid card came in the mail,” LuQuis told RH Reality Check via e-mail. “We took it down to Planned Parenthood and I got my IUD inserted.”

Problem solved—until January, when LuQuis’ IUD suddenly expelled itself. That’s when LuQuis realized, when re-applying for the WHP to get a new IUD, that Governor Rick Perry, Health and Human Services Commissioner Thomas Seuhs, Attorney General Greg Abbott and conservative lawmakers around the state had been making “efforts to defund Planned Parenthood at any cost.” And as for LuQuis, she said, “At any cost happened to be my contraception coverage unfortunately.”

Read the rest of this entry →

What Will Texas’ New State-Funded Women’s Health Program Look Like?

10:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

(photo: iowapolitics/flickr)

(photo: iowapolitics/flickr)

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

What will it look like to have no federal Women’s Health Program in Texas? That’s what the state department of Health and Human Services began figuring out last week when Governor Rick Perry and Texas lawmakers opted to cut Planned Parenthood out of the Women’s Health Program in the state and instead move to a wholly state-funded system. The federal government has refused to continue the funding because Medicaid clients have, under federal law, the legal right to seek care wherever they choose, and the Obama administration considers the State of Texas to be violating federal law in their move to exclude Planned Parenthood.

A spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says that despite the fact that the federal government funded 90 percent of the Women’s Health Program, the change-over process “should be pretty smooth,” as they’re not “building a new program” but instead are changing the funding source from federal to state monies. The process will involve moving about $30 million from existing state funds to a new Texas Women’s Health Program over the next several months. The HHSC will submit a phase-out plan to the feds by April 16th and begin notifying WHP participants that they’ll need to find new providers.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, that may include referring those clients to other Medicaid plans. If that happens, women may actually be able to continue getting care at Planned Parenthood, because Planned Parenthood is still considered a “qualified provider” outside the Women’s Health Program in Texas–but only for now. A spokesperson for Governor Rick Perry told RH Reality Check this week that Perry may seek to exclude Planned Parenthood from all Medicaid programs.

“Governor Perry believes abortion providers and their affiliates, like Planned Parenthood, have no business receiving taxpayer dollars,” said Perry spokesperson Lucy Nashed, “and will support efforts to further accomplish that goal.”

Even if the HHSC doesn’t have to build a new program from scratch, they’ll still need new providers to come on board to accommodate the tens of thousands of women seen at Planned Parenthood clinics under the WHP. In 2010, for example, Planned Parenthood saw over 51,000 women who will now be funnelled to other doctors and clinics–out of a total of more than 105,000 clients. Read the rest of this entry →