Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Op-Ed: Texas Loses The Medicaid Women’s Health Program Over Politics

            Rick Perry made a big mistake when he denied Federal Medicaid funding for the Women’s Health Program to make a political statement over abortion.
            The Women’s Health Program (WHP) is a Medicaid program that provides low-income Texas women with annual pap-smears, STI testing, contraceptives, and diabetes screenings among other preventative care.
            At the beginning of the year, Texas state governor Rick Perry decided to make an executive order denying abortion affiliates from receiving federal Medicaid funding for the WHP. He made an exemption for hospitals, meaning that the only affiliate being excluded was, can you guess? Planned Parenthood.
            Texas’ new law explicitly disregards federal Medicaid law that requires women be able to choose any medical provider that is qualified to perform services covered under the WHP.
            Excluding Planned Parenthood from the WHP because they are an abortion affiliate is nonsensical; to qualify for WHP you have to be between the ages of 18 and 44 and importantly, not pregnant. Under the Hyde Amendment, no state or federal money has helped pay for abortions since 1976.
            The Medicaid Women’s Health Program is 90% funded by the federal government- for every $1 Texas invests the feds give us $9. Texas is denying nearly $35 million dollars in federal funding for preventative care for women. Texas pays about $1.3 billion annually for unintended pregnancies, the highest price tag in America except for California whom we are tied with for first place.
            Rick Perry has promised that the state of Texas will cover the funds we will lose by the implementation of the new law. This notion is interesting, because last legislative session, Texas cut preventative care funding from $111 million down to just $38 million when facing a devastating budget crisis. This resulted in nearly 300,000 women losing access to care. By implementation of the new executive order denying abortion affiliates (wait, just Planned Parenthood) from receiving funding, an additional 130,000 women will lose care.
            Rick Perry’s argument has been that Planned Parenthood makes up only 2% of WHP providers. This is true, but they also provide a whopping 44% of the services. A lot of Texas doctors cannot cover Medicaid services, because they get a much higher reimbursement from private insurance companies. Doctors literally cannot afford to accept Medicaid.  Without Planned Parenthood, the WHP will not have the capacity to operate. Jose Camacho, the executive director of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers has said there is no way the remaining health centers that have suffered budget cuts will be able to build the capacity quickly enough to continue care for the 130,000 women who rely on Planned Parenthood for their annual exams and other preventative services.
            A reporter asked the governor what Texas would do if Texas could come up with the money, but providers still could not cover the services. Perry’s response was, “Well, I don’t live in what ifs.” That sounds like an extremely illogical argument, and a dangerous one. I for one am fond of back up plans when it comes to health care for 130,000 Texas women.
            Kay Bailey Hutchison, another staunchly pro-life Texas representative, has actually dissented against Rick Perry’s choice to reject federal funding, a move that surprised Planned Parenthood and its supporters. Someone with political will in Texas knows that the Women’s Health Program in no way funds abortions, because you can’t be pregnant and receive services from the program! There is hope for Texas.
            It is important for Texas’ governor to sit down at the table with the federal government, and decide how to resolve this issue. One in four Texas women lack health insurance, and Texas has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the nation. Texas cannot afford to reject money for preventative health care for low-income Texas women.

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