More than 1 in 4 Texas women are uninsured. Our cervical cancer and unintended pregnancy rates are among the highest nationally. Texas recently was ranked last in health care services and delivery, according to an annual scorecard issued by the federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. So the need for affordable, quality health care in Texas has never been greater.
Yet despite these grim realities, the 2011 Legislature slashed the budget for women’s health care by two-thirds, leaving an estimated 160,000 women without access to basic health care. That includes 4,000 women who received free cancer screenings, HIV tests, breast exams and birth control at the Mary Ruth Duncan Planned Parenthood Health Center in Waco.
As a mother of two and a soon-to-be grandmother, I know firsthand that a woman’s health directly impacts the health and well-being of her family.
Now the Women’s Health Program (WHP), which provides health exams, cancer screenings and birth control to uninsured Texas women, is at risk. The largest health care provider in the program, Planned Parenthood, has been banned from participating. This affects thousands of low-income and uninsured Texas women who rely on Planned Parenthood health centers for cancer screenings, well-woman exams and other basic, preventive health care.
Study after study has indicated that Texas does not have enough health care providers to tend to the nearly 50,000 low-income women who depended on Planned Parenthood for care through WHP.
According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Planned Parenthood in Waco provided health services to nearly 2,200 WHP patients in fiscal year 2011. Other area WHP providers combined served only 36 patients during the same period. These providers will not be able to increase their patient load to offset the loss of Planned Parenthood from the program. The need for health care for uninsured Central Texans is simply too great.
Previously, the federal government covered 90 percent of the costs for the Women’s Health Program but discontinued funding Jan. 1 because Texas elected officials have insisted on restricting women’s access to Planned Parenthood specifically.
Instead, Gov. Rick Perry’s “Texas Women’s Health Program” will cost Texas taxpayers an estimated $40 million per year, yet will serve substantially fewer women.
These attacks on the Women’s Health Program have nothing to do with improving the health of our Texas women. In fact, just the opposite. This is not how you care for a state. Texas women — and the men who love them — deserve better.
Women like Alex Henderson, who last year found a lump in her breast and feared for the worst. Alex attends MCC’s University Center and is pursuing a degree from Tarleton State. She knew she could count on Planned Parenthood to help her get to the right place to have what turned out to be a benign tumor examined, removed and biopsied.
There are thousands of women like Alex who have relied on Planned Parenthood for years. Many don’t know where they could go for preventive care if Planned Parenthood continues to be banned from the Women’s Health Program. There just aren’t enough other WHP providers in Central Texas.
We absolutely must stand together for women’s health in Central Texas to ensure that the thousands of women who rely on Planned Parenthood are able to continue to accessing basic care.
Women don’t come to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement. They come because they need affordable health care. For more than 75 years, Planned Parenthood has provided care for women in McLennan County. As a longtime Waco resident, let me make it clear that the Waco community stands with Planned Parenthood and women like Alex who rely on these services.
Join me and visit standwithtxwomen.org to call on Texas politicians to stop playing politics with our women and instead protect the health of Texas women and their families.
Kris Kaiser Olson is retired from the nonprofit sector but continues to volunteer with numerous statewide and local nonprofit organizations. She is board chairman of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.