After nearly a month of negotiating the two-year state budget, House and Senate budget writers approved a provision this week that excludes Planned Parenthood from the state Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which thousands of poor women in Texas rely on for cancer screenings and diagnostic services. The program also allows providers to quickly enroll cancer patients in Medicaid for follow-up treatment.
The idea to exclude the longtime provider originated earlier this session, when lawmakers proposed reorganizing the program’s funding into a three-tiered system, putting Planned Parenthood and other specialized family planning providers last in line to get funds.
In January, key budget writers state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) acknowledged that they want to keep state money away from health care providers that also perform abortions, even though no public dollars fund the procedure and Planned Parenthood clinics that offer such services are completely independent from its health centers.
Along the way, as the Observer reported, women’s health advocates, providers and Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the collateral damage that would follow from suddenly cutting major providers from the cancer program.
“This so-called three-tiered approach has the very intended consequence of wiping out at least a provider that is integral in making sure that women that don’t otherwise have access to care,” state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) told the Observer in February. “There are providers that aren’t the targeted provider that also get hurt.”
The negotiated provision approved Wednesday appears to quell the concern that non-Planned Parenthood providers would lose funding from the program. However, it does specify that no abortion provider or an affiliate of an abortion provider (read: Planned Parenthood) may participate in the program. Planned Parenthood has been a BCCS provider for 20 years and serves about 10 percent of the 34,000 women served every year.
“Once again, Texas legislators have ignored their constituents and jeopardized the lives of Texas women,” Yvonne Gutierrez, president of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said in a statement released late Wednesday.
Does all this sound familiar? It’s a strategy the Legislature has used in the past: In 2011, the GOP-led Lege implored the same criteria on providers that participated in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. However, when the Legislature wrote the single largest provider out of the program, the federal government yanked its generous $9-to-$1 matching funds. Texas then created its own Texas Women’s Health Program, without Planned Parenthood. That change, along with nearly $70 million in family planning budget cuts, resulted in the loss of more than 50 family planning clinics statewide.
While the 2013 Legislature restored some of the cut funding, several studies have shown that women are still going without services. According a recent survey by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, more than 50 percent of women seeking family planning services in Texas reported encountering at least one barrier along the way.
The exclusion of Planned Parenthood from BCCS is just another blow to reproductive and women’s health this session. Bills moving quickly through both chambers will undoubtedly restrict access to abortion for Texas women: Senate Bill 575 bans private insurance plans from covering abortions and would require women to buy a supplemental policy to cover the procedure, and House Bill 3994 would dramatically reduce access to abortion for minors in Texas who are victims of abuse or assault. HB 3994 would also require all women seeking an abortion in Texas to present a government-issued ID.