On Friday, a Travis County judge denied Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary injunction to stay in the state-funded Texas Women's Health Program. If you're one of the thousands of low-income women who went to Planned Parenthood under the now-defunct federal program for family planning services and cancer screenings, the state Health and Human Services Commission would like to direct you a snazzy pink website
where you can search for approved providers (i.e. anyone but Planned Parenthood) in your area.
Good luck with that. We had Current
intern Selina Smith type in our office zip code (78215) and phone the first 30 providers that popped up on the HHSC list. Just over half, 16, said they're currently taking TWHP clients. Seven said they had taken clients under the federal Medicaid-waiver program in the past, but didn't commit to taking clients from the new state-run program in the future. Two of the listed providers were emergency room physicians who don't take TWHP clients. One of the physicians listed has since moved. With four of the providers, HHSC listed the number of a California billing service that was very, very confused by our repeat inquiries.
Others across the state have tried this with similar results. State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) had a staffer contact the first 30 providers listed in her zip code
, “and only found five of the 30 who actually serve women in the Women's Health Program.” The Dallas Morning News checked HHSC's entire list of 336 Dallas-area providers
, and found that only “18 percent of the 55 unrepeated physicians and offices surveyed knew they were a part of the program and are accepting new patients.”
The problems underscore worries by Planned Parenthood and other women's health advocates that existing health care providers will not be able to absorb all the clients orphaned by the Planned Parenthood ban. Until this year, Texas operated the Women's Health Program (WHP, not to be confused with TWHP), a Medicaid-waiver program that was 90 percent paid for with federal dollars. When Texas sought to ban Planned Parenthood's family planning clinics because they're “affiliates” of abortion providers, the feds ruled Texas couldn't arbitrarily ban a qualified provider. The state chose to forego the federal funding and instead set up a completely state-funded program, the TWHP, which launched Jan. 1.
Last week HHSC sought to assuage concerns that the Planned Parenthood ban would leave thousands of women without a provider. It released a provider capacity survey
claiming that in most areas of the state other providers could pick up women who can no longer go to Planned Parenthood under the TWHP.
The HHSC study says non-Planned Parenthood providers will be able to take on a flood of new clients – these are mostly estimates, as 56 percent of providers didn't respond to HHSC's survey. The HHSC survey says Planned Parenthood's four San Antonio family planning clinics saw 3,451 WHP clients in 2012, compared to 5,312 clients who billed other approved providers within a 30-mile radius that year. Yet somehow HHSC's a total estimated capacity for San Antonio jumps to 36,977 clients for 2013.
The HHSC survey also shows Texas' 51 Planned Parenthood clinics served more WHP clients in 2012 than all other 1,948 WHP providers combined.
Planned Parenthood insists the state's report is incredibly optimistic, and points to a number of recent studies that aren't so rosy about women's healthcare providers in Texas. Included is one from George Washington University
that says deep family planning cuts by the Lege in 2011 have already left many large, non-Planned Parenthood providers “generally at, or close to, the limits of their capacity.”
The progressive Center for Public Policy Priorities
has its own reservations with HHSC's estimates, writing last week that the stated capacity increases are “astonishing.” – Michael Barajas