By Anna Chatillon
Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition
In the midst of the chaos and inevitable drama of the 84th Texas Legislature, we risk overlooking one piece of news with the potential to change thousands of lives for the better. Funding for women’s preventive health care services, such as annual check-ups and contraceptive care, was increased by nearly $50 million in the state budget for the coming biennium.
In 2011, draconian budget cuts to Texas’ Family Planning program devastated the women’s health care safety net. When the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition, a collaboration of 60 member organizations led by TAFP and others, was formed in 2012, its aim was to restore that funding. The Coalition’s successful advocacy restored the funding in 2013 through the Texas Women’s Health Program and the Expanded Primary Health Care program, in addition to the Family Planning program.
In 2013, the state’s exclusion of affiliates of abortion providers meant that fewer physicians were available to care for patients in the TWHP; it also meant loss of the nine-to-one federal Medicaid match for TWHP funding. The state stepped up to provide that funding, but it was clear that the Coalition’s mission of ensuring access to preventive care for all Texas women was far from accomplished.
Even the most optimistic calculations suggest that fewer than three in 10 income-eligible Texas women receive the publicly funded preventive care they so desperately need—even with the funding restored in 2013. This year, TWHC spearheaded the push to increase funding for the three programs that provide these services.
Thanks to the impressive leadership of allied legislators such as Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place; and Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin; the Coalition’s advocacy to increase the funding was successful.
“The injection of $50 million in new funding into these preventive care programs is an outstanding investment in the health of Texan women, families, and communities,” said Dr. Janet Realini, TWHC chair. “Moving forward, the key in living up to the promise of the new funding will be in using the dollars wisely and developing the programs to be as effective as possible.”
To this end, the Legislature has directed the programs’ administering agency, the Health and Human Services Commission, to form an advisory committee of women’s health care providers. This direction was issued via an amendment to Senate Bill 200, recommended by TWHC and secured by Rep. Howard, and is intended to guide the state’s use of these dollars and any potential consolidation of these programs. Such a consolidation, as originally proposed in the Sunset review of HHSC, was not formally decided upon by the Legislature before the end of the session. The provider work group may take up such topics as eligibility requirements, delivery of same-day services to clients, and the appropriate method of granting funding to providers.
One focus of the committee will likely be long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices and sub-dermal implants. As recommended by TWHC, the final state budget issued this session includes a rider requiring that state agencies increase access to LARCs and develop provider education and training to improve that access. The coalition looks forward to the agency’s continued effort to make LARCs as accessible as possible, continuing in the vein of their prior impressive efforts to ensure such access.
As TWHC marks the end of the 84th legislative session, we will take a moment to celebrate the increase in funding for women’s preventive health care programs, the new voice for providers enrolled in those programs, and the potential for increased access to the most effective forms of birth control. And as we look to the future and to our continued advocacy for women’s health care, we will in turn celebrate TAFP and our other member organizations. Through their leadership, countless Texan women will have access to better preventive health care in the next two years. From the Coalition’s perspective, that is one session outcome that truly is priceless.