New Women's Health Program Launches Amid Provider Concerns

State officials are optimistic about the new Texas Women’s Health Program, which launched this week amid a long-running legislative fight. But at least one state lawmaker thinks there’s a problem with the program’s list of providers.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has been worried about the Women’s Health Program since the state said it would create its own version of the program. That came after the state moved to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, from participating — which led the federal government to pull all funding.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Howard was worried when she wrote a letter to the Health and Human Services Commission, or HHSC, asking for information about new providers.

"I was told immediately upon sending this letter, by HHSC, that they were in the process of doing a study on this and would get back with me," Howard said.

 

The state-run program’s new website prominently shows how to search for local providers, so Howard had one of her staff members visit the program website to see what might be available.

"One of my staff members actually typed in the ZIP code for 78701 and contacted the first 30 providers on that list," Howard said, "and only found five of the 30 who actually serve women in the Women’s Health Program.”

KUT called a few of the doctors on that list. Of the first three, two said they were not providers in the program.

Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman for HHSC, said the commission was notified of problems with the list of providers last fall.

"Our program staff worked with our claims contractor to eliminate the listing of duplicate providers, and those changes were effective Nov. 1," Gockel said. "So now any duplications are ones that should be there, because a doctor may work out of more than one office. And that information is going to be important to a person who is looking for a provider."

Gockel said the only way providers can be listed on the website is if they have filed paperwork to enroll, though some may have applied accidentally.

“Anything that’s brought to our attention, we’ll contact that provider and say, 'Did you really mean to be on this list?' And make sure that that site has the best information, most accurate information we can put on it," Gockel said.

Howard said a legislative measure to increase providers — allowing Planned Parenthood back into the program, for instance — is remote. And even if lawmakers restored the millions cut to family planning providers in 2011, many of those clinics have shut their doors.

 

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