Texas launches health program for low-income women

6:49 p.m Monday, July 25, 2016 Texas News & Politics

The state has launched a new subsidized health care program for low-income women that will include coverage of certain chronic disease treatment.

The Healthy Texas Women program provides pregnancy testing and counseling, family planning, breast and cervical cancer screenings, immunizations, and screenings and — for the first time — treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The program, which began July 1, is a consolidation of the Texas Women’s Health Program and the Expanded Primary Health Care for Women program after the Sunset Advisory Commission in 2014 determined that the state could better streamline services and serve more women through one program rather than two.

Many of the women in the previous programs will be automatically enrolled in the new one.

“We needed a more cohesive system. One that is easier to navigate. One that emphasizes family planning and one that reaches more women, especially in our rural and underserved areas,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said Monday.

Unlike the previous programs, the new program also covers low-income minors as young as 15 with parental consent, which means access to free birth control.

Nelson touted the number of providers — 5,000 — that have already signed up and that the state’s women health care budget is now at an all-time high of $285 million.

The restoration of funds comes after the Legislature cut two-thirds of the state’s family planning budget and ended state funding to Planned Parenthood in 2011.

Pinching off state funds to Planned Parenthood led to the federal government pulling money from the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program. The state replaced it with the Texas Women’s Health Program in 2013, and that is now being replaced three years later.

“It’s not that the new programs are good or bad. It’s just the constant change makes it very difficult for providers to continue providing services for women in that uncertain environment and constantly evolving environment,” said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

Advocacy groups said that although the state said 5,000 providers have signed on, the number isn’t an accurate reflection of how many Texas women will be served. Some providers could serve a range of patients, and many family planning clinics haven’t reopened since the 2011 budget cuts.

On Monday, Lesley French, associate commissioner of women’s health services in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission declined to say how many women the commission would like to enroll in the program. In 2015, about 260,000 women enrolled in the two programs that are now consolidating.

“One of our biggest issues is just really wanting to make sure that we have really strong provider participation in the program,” said Alice Bufkin, director of policy and advocacy at the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

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