Women's access to affordable health care will be reduced if the state follows through with its plan to eschew federal funding for the Women’s Health Program and create a state program instead, according to a new study from George Washington University.
The study, a follow-up to a May report from the university on Texas women's health, examines the impact of excluding Planned Parenthood from the state Women’s Health Program in Bexar, Dallas, Hidalgo, Lubbock and Midland counties.
The Women’s Health Program operates under a Medicaid waiver and serves more than 100,000 low-income women. Starting Nov. 1, the state plans to exclude Planned Parenthood affiliated health clinics from the program. To do so, it will have to give up federal money, which funds 90 percent of the $36 million program, because the plan violates federal requirements that patients be able to choose their providers.
“While other clinics may be able to care for some of the displaced patients if Planned Parenthood is excluded, there is no evidence that they are prepared to sustain the very large caseload increases that would be required to fill the gaps left after Planned Parenthood clinics are excluded,” the study says.
Planned Parenthood served between 51 and 84 percent of the program’s patients in the counties the study examined. Across the state, almost half of the more than 100,000 women in the program received care at Planned Parenthood, according to a recent study from the University of Texas Population Research Center.
The Women’s Health Program is a cost-saver for Texas because access to family planning reduces the number of unintended pregnancies, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the state's Health and Human Services Commission. The program also provides preventative care, including clinic breast exams and Pap smears.
According to the study, a switch to a state-run program and the elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood will increase the number of unintended pregnancies. In 2010, the program led to 8,215 fewer births and saved $90.2 million, the study states.
Goodman said the state has added 500 providers to the program and will continue recruiting more. Most of these are OB/GYNs who the state hopes will be able to see “more than 10” Women’s Health Program patients per year, she said.
“They aren’t going to see hundreds of WHP clients like a clinic might," Goodman said. "But when we looked at who is seeing not just one or two patients but more than 10, there are already more than 500."
Many of Planned Parenthood’s 6,500 program patients in Hidalgo County won’t have anywhere else to go for care, said Kathryn Hearn, the director of community affairs for Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County. Other clinics in the area can’t absorb all of Planned Parenthood’s patients, Hearn said.
“That is what other providers in this community are telling us,” she said. “We are an important safety net, an important link in this health care system.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Women's Health Program provides clinic breast exams, not mammograms.