September 25, 2015 — The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced Wednesday that under a legislative order, it will consolidate two of the state's largest women's health programs into the Healthy Texas Women program, launching next July, the Texas Tribune reports (Ura, Texas Tribune, 9/23).
The consolidation comes after the state Legislature in 2011 cut the state's family planning budget by two-thirds and blocked funding to Planned Parenthood and other women's health clinics affiliated with abortion providers. As a result of the cuts, 76 of Texas' family planning clinics closed or stopped providing family planning services, according to a survey by University of Texas-Austin researchers (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/12). In 2013, the health commission estimated that unplanned pregnancies in 2014 and 2015 due to the budget cuts would result in an additional 24,000 babies (Texas Tribune, 9/23).
To mitigate the effect of the 2011 cuts, Texas legislators during the 2013 session increased women's health funds for the 2014-2015 state budget (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/12). The funds went toward operating the Texas Women's Health Program and replacing the family planning grants that the federal government awarded to another organization to distribute (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/9/13). Meanwhile, $100 million was used to establish the Expanded Primary Health Care program, which provides low-income women with contraception and health screenings.
According to the Tribune, state lawmakers wanted to combine the Texas Women's Health Program and the Expanded Primary Health Care program to help women navigate the system. In the states' 2016-2017 budget, lawmakers combined funding for the two programs (Texas Tribune, 9/23).
Details of New Program
The joint initiative will combine the Texas Women's Health Program and the Expanded Primary Health Care Program. The combined program will provide services such as health screenings and contraception to women ages 15 to 44 whose income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. The program also will extend eligibility for services to minors who are old enough to become pregnant, down from the previous minimum age of 18. However, parental consent will be required for minors to receive care.
The Women's Health Advisory Committee, comprised of health professionals appointed by the Legislature to oversee the Healthy Texas Women program, will vote in coming months on the benefits package the program would offer.
At a meeting Wednesday, HHSC Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor said Texas would soon become a "model for other states," adding, "I look forward to beginning a new chapter of women's health in Texas."
Ana Rodriguez DeFrates, state policy and advocacy director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, expressed doubts about using the structure of the Texas Women's Health Program to consolidate the two programs. Rodriguez DeFrates said the Texas Women's Health Program has not served as many women as intended. According to the state health commission, claims for services under the program decreased from 418,000 in 2013 to 397,000 in 2014. "We need to make sure we're not over correcting and [giving funding] to a program that has proven not to be effective," she said (Texas Tribune, 9/23).
According to Time Warner Cable News advocates also expressed doubt that the state could meet women's health needs while maintaining its opposition to funding Planned Parenthood. Rodriguez DeFrates said, "Really, we are where we are today because of the legislature's attack on abortion care and the sad consequence of that attack is that it has [a]ffected so many great family planning and preventive services programs that would have significantly reduced the need for abortion care to begin with" (Wallace, Time Warner Cable News, 9/23).