Rule excluding Planned Parenthood from Medicaid program takes effect today

Posted on: March 14th, 2012 by Mary Tuma 8 Comments

Delia Henry gave up her job so she could focus on helping others stay healthy. But by setting aside work to attend nursing school, the 31-year-old Austin Community College student no longer had access to health insurance. Plagued by intense migraines and dizziness, Henry was told by a primary care physician she would have to wait a month before her next well woman exam–time, says Henry, that in retrospect could have meant life or death.

Instead of waiting, Henry enrolled in the Medicaid-based Women’s Health Program and was examined by a Planned Parenthood doctor within days. During the visit, a routine blood sugar check discovered Henry’s migraines were not stress headaches, but a symptom of diabetes.

“The program saved my life,” said Henry. “And at least my legs. I didn’t have any idea my headaches were a result of diabetes. I’m so grateful to Planned Parenthood and the program. If I hadn’t signed up, I could have gotten really sick and who knows what would have happened.”

Today, the program Henry credits her life to, faces the chopping block because state officials recently decided to ban Planned Parenthood clinics from the Medicaid program because the clinics sometimes provide abortions. The exclusion of Planned Parenthood violates federal law and effectively blacklists Texas from the government funds altogether. Backed by Gov. Rick Perry and Perry-appointed Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs, the rule aims to prevent financial support for abortion clinics despite the fact federal and state law already explicitly prohibit taxpayer dollars from going toward abortions, a situation commentators are finding both ironic and politically motivated.

On Friday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, told the Houston Chronicle the federal government, which covers 90 percent of the program’s cost or $35 million, will not extend a waiver to continue the WHP. The decision was expected as precedent shows states cannot simply exclude a provider based on their services. Texas, she said, had been put “on notice.”

“It saddens and frustrates me. Planned Parenthood means a lot to many people and Texas has made it a mission to fight against them,” said Henry. “This program is essential to women’s health and it’s been thrown under the bus.”

Now, Henry and the more than 130,000 uninsured, low-income Texas women from ages 18-44 that rely on the program will suffer as a result. Reproductive health care like annual family planning, breast and cervical cancer screenings, hypertension, STD testing and treatment, and birth control are off the table for the state’s neediest and most vulnerable women. While Perry has vowed to continue funding the program–the details of how he will do that remain unclear, especially in light of drastic cuts to family planning made last year.

Called an ideological assault on women by critics, the program’s demise is yet another example of the perceived war on female reproductive care in Texas. Family planning dollars were shredded by some $74 million this legislative session, leaving another 160,000 mostly low-income women without access to basic health care. Those cuts resulted in the closures of roughly 11 Planned Parenthood centers in Texas. The Legislative Budget Board estimated the cuts would likely lead to as many as 20,000 unplanned pregnancies each year. Estimates produced by the same state health commission that signed the rule barring Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program show the WHP reduced the number of unintended pregnancies from 10,706 to 3,985. According to The Guttmacher Institute, more than 40 percent of unplanned pregnancies result in abortion among low-income women–the demographic hit hardest by WHP and family planning cuts.

The Center for Public Policy recently issued a paper characterizing the state’s decision to block Planned Parenthood and thus jeopardize funding for the federal-state partnership as a “poor choice,” and a violation of a woman’s right to choose her provider under the Social Security Act. It noted the success of the WHP in reducing unplanned pregnancies and thus, abortions. With more than half of all Texas births unplanned, the paper reads, “our state should be expanding, not restricting, access to birth control.” Without the program Texas would be able to serve only about 61,000 women this year—an 80 percent reduction in the number of low-income women who get access to vital health care and birth control, the report indicates.

Planned Parenthood clinics, which serve nearly half of the program’s clients, have pushed back by taking to the road in a multi-city “Don’t Mess With Texas Women” bus tour across the state, highlighting the effects of the program’s collapse, as the Texas Independent previously reported. They made their last stop at the Texas State Capitol Tuesday evening attracting about 800 attendees, including Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and state Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) who came out to rally in support of the Women’s Health Program. An online petition against the cuts has garnered more than 95,000 signatures, and will be delivered to the governor today.

Henry says she is eating healthy, exercising and doing everything she can to manage her diabetes. But when the program ends, she worries about other services that she will have to forgo, such as birth control. She says she will be as “protective as possible,” but that “accidents happen.”

“It’s kind of an oxymoron,” said Henry. “They say they want to stop abortions but they are taking away a major source of preventative care and reproductive health information, which can lead to unplanned pregnancies, abortions or children on welfare or in foster care.”

“If we really want to stop abortions, we have to equip women with the right tools to prevent unplanned pregnancies–because of the cuts, thousands of women are just not going to have that option.”

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