Texas Gov. Perry Pledges To Fund Medicaid Women's Health Program

March 9, 2012 — Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Thursday said the state will use its own money to continue its Medicaid Women's Health Program, regardless of whether the federal government cuts off funding to the program because of a new state law, the Texas Tribune reports (Tan, Texas Tribune, 3/8).

The law, which bars participation by Planned Parenthood clinics or other organizations that are affiliated with abortion providers, has put Texas in a stand-off with the federal government. The federal government covers 90% of the program's cost and has warned state officials that they cannot exclude qualified providers from Medicaid. By the end of the month, about 130,000 low-income women are expected to lose services through the program because of the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/5).

The federal government previously informed Texas officials that it will suspend financing for the program as of March 14 if they move forward with plans to exclude providers.

Perry on Thursday said he would not rescind the law. He did not indicate how the state would provide the $35 million per year needed to fund the program if federal support ends (Ramshaw/Belluck, New York Times, 3/8). "We'll find the money. The state is committed to this program," Perry said. He issued a letter to Thomas Suehs, head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, directing him to work with lawmakers to find the funding.

"We've got a multibillion-dollar budget, so we've got the ability to be flexible on where the money comes from," Perry said. Although the Legislature is out of session until next year, a Perry spokesperson said the governor has the authority to redistribute funding.

Perry said he wants to preserve the Women's Health Program, noting that the Legislature last year cut funding for 160,000 participants. The cuts were part of $83 million in reductions to women's health programs (AP/Washington Post, 3/8).

State Laws Aimed at Planned Parenthood Restrict Health Care Options for Low-Income Women

The Women's Health Program law and other efforts to prevent funding to Planned Parenthood are cutting off women's access to health services in Texas, mirroring the effects of similar laws in other states, the New York Times reports (Belluck/Ramshaw, New York Times, 3/7).

In Texas, more than half of state-funded family planning clinics closed after lawmakers last fall cut funding by two-thirds. The state's family planning network once provided no- or low-cost birth control, cervical cancer screenings and other services to 220,000 women annually, but it will serve about 40,000 to 60,000 women under the reduced funding levels, state officials said (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/5).

Although supporters of the funding cuts and new law said the purpose is to restrict access to abortion services, none of the clinics that have closed offered abortion care, the Times reports.

Efforts in Other States

Other states have enacted measures blocking funding to Planned Parenthood by various means. Lawmakers in Kansas and North Carolina cut off federal Title X funding to the organization, Indiana barred Planned Parenthood affiliates from Medicaid, and Wisconsin eliminated family planning and breast cancer screening funds. Although the Wisconsin measure has not been challenged in court, judges in the three other states have blocked the laws, at least temporarily, saying that Planned Parenthood was targeted illegally.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire canceled a contract with Planned Parenthood last year, and the state's House recently voted to essentially strip the organization of family planning funding. Under the bill, clinics would receive financing only if the state could not award it to hospitals or government-run clinics (New York Times, 3/7).