The state of Texas launched its Women’s Health Program this week. Texas is funding the program on its own because the federal government pulled money 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 and certain family planning services.
“There is one thing that’s actually been added and that is treatment for some sexually transmitted diseases," Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokesperson Linda Edwards Gockel said. "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 identified about 20,000 women who used Planned Parenthood and will now need to find a new healthcare provider. Planned Parenthood says the number of women it served in the program was around 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 case has a hearing next week.
In the meantime, the state has been recruiting doctors and clinics for its program. HHSC's Linda Edwards Gockel said a thousand providers have been added to the state-run Women’s Health Program.
“So that makes a total of 3,500 providers statewide. 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," Gockel said.
The changes that began January 1st were passed during the 2011 legislative session.
Now lawmakers are heading back to Austin . There’s already talk of taking another look at how the Texas Women’s Health 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," said Planned Parenthood's Sarah Wheat.
The state’s overall healthcare 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 Program but other services HHSC provides.