More talk than action, and the numbers don’t add up. Are we surprised?
Texas health officials have delivered a proposal to the federal government that outlines their plans for transitioning the Women’s Health Program from a program primarily supported by federal funds to one that runs on state money. They want the federal government to keep paying for the Medicaid program through October “to ensure that current and future clients of the program have access to family planning services without disruption.”
The transition packet outlines the state’s plan to find new providers to participate in the program. As it stands, about half of the clients in the Women’s Health Program go to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, and the network receives about 40 percent of the program’s reimbursement funding. Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against the state, arguing they are being denied their constitutional right to participate in the program.
Under Perry’s directive, health officials say they are executing plans to operate the program without Medicaid funding and will rename it the Texas Women’s Health Program. They plan to house the program under the Department of State Health Services and to “transition the Medicaid program to a program funded exclusively with state general revenue.” Officials have not confirmed where that funding will come from, or whether it will be diverted from other sources. In response to an inquiry from Democratic lawmakers last month, HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs hinted the state could free up state dollars to fund the Women’s Health Program by seeking federal block grants for other programs.
In addition, the state plans to expand the program’s scope of reimbursements services to include paying for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The Medicaid Women’s Health Program was intended to provide early detection and diagnoses; women were referred to other medical providers for treatment of their health issues.
Though family-planning providers have expressed confusion and uncertainty over their futures, HHSC officials maintain there will be a “seamless transition for clients and providers.”
The state’s proposal outlines plans to conduct a campaign that will include more robust referral services and outreach via radio, mailings and brochures. The commission plans to expand its call center’s scope of services to help clients find providers.
Before you get impressed at the idea of Texas expanding services and outreach, remember two things. First, they have to find enough non-Planned Parenthood providers to make up for all of the clinics that will no longer be able to receive this funding. This Chron story gives the reasons why, but for the most part it’s that it’s not a moneymaker for providers. Second, just this Monday at his no-tax-a-palooza Rick Perry was calling Medicaid a “ticking time bomb” that threatens to wreck his state’s budget. You may recall that at Perry’s direction, the last Legislature underfunded Medicaid by nearly $5 billion, a hot check the next Lege will have to use the Rainy Day Fund to cover. Perry’s bright idea to solve the Medicaid crisis he talks about is by implementing block grants. Block grants work to control costs because once they run out, that’s it. Whatever your need is, this is how much you have to spend. You get to control costs because you get to decree what they are. Can anyone envision a scenario where that is consistent with expanding a health care program that must first work to bring in a passel of new providers to replace a well-established nonprofit? Me neither. Either this state-funded alternative to the WHP will be so penurious that no one will want to participate, or its costs will grow at least as rapidly as Medicaid, thus bringing that ticking time bomb closer to kaboom. Well done, Governor! This whole thing continues to be vaporware, and getting an extension on the deadline to have its ducks in a row is unlikely to help the state of Texas figure it out.