Low-income Women in Texas Will Find Health Care Even Harder to Come By

No one wins: Thanks to a state law that violated Medicaid rules, low-income women in Texas will find it harder to get health services
No one wins: Thanks to a state law that violated Medicaid rules, low-income women in Texas will find it harder to get health services

This year, more than 300,000 low-income women in Texas may find themselves without access to health services and contraception, thanks to state budget cuts and a new law banning Planned Parenthood from participating in the Texas Medicaid Women's Health Program -- a move that made Texas ineligible for $35 million in federal funds because it violates rules about Medicaid.

In an effort to limit abortion and block Planned Parenthood from receiving any taxpayer money, the Texas law, which goes into effect on Wednesday, bars health clinics with any affiliation to an abortion provider from participating in the Medicaid Women's Health Program -- even if that link is a single employee or board member, or even just the clinic's name, The Associated Press reported.

Ironically, the Planned Parenthood centers that do provide abortions are not affected by the Texas law since they're administered -- and funded -- separately from other clinics. Instead, clinics that provide birth control, cancer screenings, medical referrals, and STD testing for about 130,000 low-income women on Medicaid are the ones that will be forced to close. Bottom line: No one wins.

On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius confirmed that Medicaid programs must allow any and all qualified health providers to participate. By blocking Planned Parenthood, Texas became ineligible for the federal money. Those funds -- about $35 million, or 90 percent of the programs budget -- will be phased out between May and September of this year.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who dropped out of the Republican race for president last year, called the decision an "egregious federal overreach."

"I will not allow these services to be denied by your administration's political agenda and opposition to enacted Texas law," Perry wrote last week in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama. "The federal government should not be in the business of protecting abortion providers at the expense of the health of Texas women."

But Sibelius pointed out that the Texas lawmakers knew what would happen if they enacted the state law, because when state and federal laws clash, federal law prevails. "They knew ... they are not allowed to deny women the right to choose," Sebelius said. "Women would be losing their doctor, their medical home, their choice."

"We have been working with Texas. We're eager to work with Texas to find a solution," Sebelius said. "But if Texas chooses to go down a road that violates the [federal] law, we really have no choice."

Perry has vowed to find a way to fund the Women's Health Program without help from the Federal government -- and without allowing Planned Parenthood to participate -- though he has not said how he plans to do so. Last year, his administration cut $73.6 million for women's health and family-planning programs from the state budget, a move that led to the closure of more than a dozen clinics and the loss of health services for another 160,000 women. Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, told Fox News that the state was willing to increase its deficit to make up the $35 million loss, since officials believe that without access to birth control, the birth rate among low-income women would rise, costing the state as much as $57 million in new maternity bills.

Though Planned Parenthood clinics account for less than two percent of the 2,500 providers in the Women's Health Program, they service about 45 percent of the Medicaid Women's Health Program's participants, according to The Associated Press. State officials insist that low-income women will be able to get health care through other providers but, as The Texas Tribune reports, many non-Planned Parenthood providers are individual doctors who may not be willing to take on more government-funded patients, not large clinics that may be better able to absorb costs.

"The program is vital. But now when women call another clinic and are told they have to wait to get an appointment, it will deter them from going and will be detrimental to their health," Delia Henry, a 31-year-old nursing student who discovered she had diabetes after a screening at Planned Parenthood, told The Associated Press. "It infuriates me what the lawmakers are doing. You have to question: Do they really care?"

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