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Amid Legal Drama, Texas Takes Over Women's Health Program

The state this week launched its own version of the Women’s Health Program, which provides some health services to low-income women. Texas is funding the program on its own after the federal government pulled money following a long-running dispute over Planned Parenthood.

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The state this week launched its own version of the Women’s Health Program. Texas is funding the program on its own because the federal government pulled funding after the state blocked Planned Parenthood from participating.

The Texas version still serves low-income women who would qualify for Medicaid if they became pregnant. It will cover about 110,000 women between 18 and 44 years old with free well-woman exams, basic health care and certain family planning services.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

"There is one thing that’s actually been added, and that is treatment for some sexually transmitted diseases," said Linda Edwards Gockel, a spokeswoman for the state's Health and Human Services Commission. "In the past, the program only screened for them but did not provide for any treatment.”

The big change is where women can go for those services. Women using the plan may not receive any health care from Planned Parenthood or any medical provider "affiliated" with abortion providers.

The state says it has identified about 20,000 women who used Planned Parenthood and will now need to find a new health care provider. Planned Parenthood says the number of women it has served in the program is about 48,000.

Planned Parenthood’s Sarah Wheat says clinics will do what they can to help clients who want to stay with them.

"If we cannot participate currently in the women’s health program, we’re going to find some way to make sure that she gets the services that she needs," Wheat said.

Planned Parenthood has not abandoned the fight to provide services through the Texas Women’s Health Program. One of its clients filed a lawsuit to remain a Planned Parenthood client. That trial has a hearing next week.

In the meantime, the state has been recruiting doctors and clinics for its program. Gockel said 1,000 providers have been added to the state-run program.

“So that makes a total of 3,500 providers statewide," she said. "And what we have found when we started to run these numbers is that we actually have greater capacity now than we did before with the Medicaid program."

The changes that began Jan. 1 were passed during the 2011 legislative session. Now lawmakers are heading back to Austin, and there’s already talk of taking another look at how the new program is set up.

“I think that there’s been such a broad impact that there’s some serious discussions going on about whether in fact we should go back in and restore some of these programs," Wheat said.

The state’s overall health care costs are expected to be a major item in the 2013 session, and legislators may have to consider the not only the Texas Women’s Health Program but other state health care services as well.

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