GOP Assault on Planned Parenthood Cuts Options for Low-Income Women

Activists gather at Planned Parenthood Lobby Day at the Texas Capitol.
Kelsey Jukam
Activists gather at Planned Parenthood Lobby Day at the Texas Capitol.

Thousands of low-income women who relied on Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings provided through a state program may now have to jump through more hoops to get services they need.

Last spring, the Texas Legislature eliminated Planned Parenthood from the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services (BCCS) program, which provides uninsured women with Pap smears, mammograms, biopsies and ultrasounds, as well as immediate enrollment in Medicaid coverage should cancer be detected. Last year, about 10 percent of the approximately 34,000 women served by BCCS went to Planned Parenthood clinics, according to Planned Parenthood officials. With the change taking effect September 1, those women won’t have the same options.

So what’s next for them?

Screenings may not be free anymore, for one. Planned Parenthood officials say their clinics will offer the same services, but women may have to pay out of pocket for things that would’ve been covered under BCCS, such as a clinic visit or Pap smear. The health care provider, which participated in the cancer program for more than 20 years, offers financial assistance to patients who qualify.

Now, a patient who receives her screening or diagnostic test at a Planned Parenthood clinic will be referred to another provider for case management and follow-up care if her exam results come back abnormal. Before the September 1 change, Planned Parenthood staff would have been able to quickly enroll her in Medicaid for health coverage and refer her to a cancer specialist.

Last fiscal year, 40 health care providers operating 195 clinics participated in the BCCS program. Kicking Planned Parenthood out means eliminating 17 clinics, according to the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The Legislature has instructed the agency to find replacement providers in places, such as Waco, where Planned Parenthood may have been the only one.

“The worry about Waco in particular is, are we going to have to tell a woman that she’s going to have to go a long way” for case management? said Kelly Hart, senior director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

Some Planned Parenthood clinics are located in far-flung communities such as Paris, which is 100 miles from the nearest BCCS clinic in Tyler.

“If there is not another provider in the area, an effort will be made to locate one that may be willing to partner with DSHS to provide services,” DSHS press officer Christine Mann wrote in an email to the Observer. “Efforts will vary by geographic region and need, but in general, every effort is made to ensure there is adequate access to services statewide. We are working on transitioning clients to existing providers and will be considering alternatives, such as entering into contracts with local government entities, to fill service areas that have gaps.”

It’s unclear how many additional providers will be needed, and where, now that Planned Parenthood is out of the picture. However, DSHS representatives say the department considers population, need and distance when making those determinations.

The September 1 change marks the second time the Legislature has banned Planned Parenthood from a state health program. In 2011, conservative lawmakers cut state family planning funding by more than $70 million and pushed Planned Parenthood out of its women’s health program.

Despite an increase in funding over the last two legislative sessions and the recruitment of more providers, thousands fewer women have received services since Planned Parenthood was excluded, according to a January 2015 study by the Health and Human Services Commission.

“Removing Planned Parenthood from yet another program is going to hurt,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “It’s going to be another instance where women have fewer options for a health care provider.”

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 2:38 pm CST
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