Texas officials express confidence that thousands of low-income women will be able to find new providers should Planned Parenthood be excluded from the state’s Women’s Health Program, but Xelena Gonzalez does not think woman should have to make that search.
“They are playing politics,” the 33-year-old San Antonio librarian and single mother said. The men dominating the policy decisions “have no idea what it’s like to be in the body of a woman and to make the decisions that we have to make.”
Gonzalez said she is happy with Planned Parenthood and angry that Texas is losing federal money for the program because of state leaders’ determination to exclude the group from a program. She said its free annual exam has been important to her tight budget.
“It’s difficult to pay for things. Your health is almost a luxury,” Gonzalez said.
Health screenings and contraceptives for about 50,000 low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood are on the line after a federal appeals court said Texas can cut Women’s Health Program funding to the group’s health centers. Planned Parenthood served 43 percent of the program’s clients in fiscal 2011.
If the ruling stands, Planned Parenthood clients’ access to free services through the program will depend on whether patients can find new providers.
[Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission] said the state has 2,971 providers, aside from Planned Parenthood clinics, in the program, an increase since the policy change.
“Our analysis indicates that the vast majority of women won’t have to travel any farther to find a qualified WHP provider, and no clients will need to travel more than 2½ miles more to get services,” she said.
A George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services study questioned the state’s assumptions. It looked at fiscal year 2010 figures, when Planned Parenthood served nearly 52,000 clients, or 49 percent of the total, while community health centers served just over 10,000.
The study said that of 1,469 providers that billed the program that year, 908 of them served 10 or fewer patients; 368 served just one patient.
Community health centers would have to expand their Women’s Health Program capacity fivefold to close that gap, the study said.
Thousands of women may wind up with no access to health care at all as a result of this disastrous policy. But let’s pretend that Goodman is correct and that there will be plenty of providers available for all these women, at no greater distance, no greater cost, and no less convenience for them. Even with that impossibly optimistic assumption, it remains the case that thousands of women will be forced to find new health care providers. If that’s not the government coming between you and your doctor, what is? Note that this will affect some women who see private physicians as well. As Rep. Garnet Coleman pointed out when I interviewed him, if a WHP patient sees a private physician and that physician does abortion referrals – not actual abortions, because that would already be barred, just referrals – that patient can no longer use WHP funds to pay for her visits. Rick Perry and the Lege are telling women what doctors they can and cannot see. It’s as simple, as as ironic, as that.