Women’s Health is More than “Choice.”
It’s been approximately seven years since the Texas Legislature began moving to defund health programs for women and as a consequence, women across the state had less access to health services this past decade.
“Women’s health, overall in my opinion, is totally overlooked,” Lisa W. of Houston told Reform Austin. “People are dying faster, they’re dying younger and everybody’s just overlooking it.“
Texas legislators moved to exclude Planned Parenthood and clinics tied to abortion providers from taxpayer funding back in 2011. The move by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 decreased family planning spending in Texas from $111 million to $37.9 million for the 2012-13 budget period, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
By targeting Planned Parenthood and other clinics, which provide an enormous array of health services (to women and men), Austin elected officials effectively eliminated access to a broader range of services than perhaps originally intended.
A University of Texas study reports 82 clinics in Texas closed or discontinued family planning following the decrease in funding.
“The 2011 funding cuts really had a dramatic impact on services for many organizations – including those who were not the targets of the legislation,” Dr. Kari White, lead author of the study. “They were simply unable to serve many women in need in their communities, and it will probably take some time before they are able to rebuild those connections and level of services.”
According to a May 2017 report from Texas Health and Human Services, 212,477 clients were served by family planning in fiscal year 2010 under the Texas Women’s Health program. (Note: The program was changed to Healthy Texas Women in July 2016). By fiscal year 2016, family planning served 60,571 clients, a drop of 151,906 clients. Texas also saw a drop in average monthly enrollment in Texas Women’s Health from 2010 to 2016. HHS reports an average of 107,567 people enrolled in the state women’s health programs in fiscal year 2010. By fiscal year 2016, the average monthly enrollment for the program dropped to 94,851.
Overall, HHS reports servicing 352,671 people for state women’s health programs in fiscal year 2010. By fiscal year 2016, HHS serviced 301,310 people, a drop of 51,361 people. The decline indicates HHS lost about 8,560 clients a year between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, even as Texas’ population dramatically increased.
(Note: Texas Women’s Health was rebranded as Healthy Texas Women in July 2016. Fiscal year 2016 data includes numbers from both programs).
“When it comes to health and wellness, you’re missing it,” Lisa said of Texas politicians’ views of women’s health. “We need to focus on this health and wellness issue, we need to get these people on board, we need to stop obesity, we need to slow down the pace of HIV and AIDS in some kind of way, we need to slow down the pace of diabetes, we need to slow down the pace of heart disease.”
There is some indication more women are signing up for the state-run Healthy Texas Women program. According to a May report from HHS, the program served 122,406 women in fiscal year 2017, up from the 70,336 clients served in the 2016 fiscal year. Family planning served 96,990 clients during the 2017 fiscal year, up from the 60,571 clients served in fiscal year 2016.
Tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases were among the most popular services used, according to HHS.
Policy makers committed to women’s health cannot assume 2017 is a turn for the better; for as HHS notes, “due to changes in program eligibility and benefits, (Healthy Texas Women) and (Family Planning Program) cannot be compared to legacy programs” meaning the 2011 and 2012 data cannot be directly compared to 2017 numbers, since eligibility and benefits have changed.
Advocates and elected officials should continue to prioritize maternal health, and restore funding for these critically-needed service providers.