Texas Throws Women Under the Bus -- Again

New legislation leaves over 130,000 without access to wellness exams, cancer screening, contraception

Today Texas dealt healthcare for women another blow when it passed legislation banning Planned Parenthood and "other abortion providers" from the state's Medicaid program. The rule leaves at least 130,000 low-income Texas women without access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

The Associated Pressreports that Texas Legislature passed a law last year making it illegal for the state to provide Medicaid funds to a doctor or clinic affiliated with an organization that provides elective abortions, even if the institution receiving the money does not provide them, a law Commissioner Tom Suehs signed Thursday. But the new state law contradicts a federal law that says states can't decide which qualified healthcare providers get state funding.

The Texas Tribunereports today:

At the direction of lawmakers and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Texas Health and Human Services commissioner signed a rule on Thursday that formally bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other "affiliates of abortion providers" from participating in the program -- something the Obama administration has said is a deal-breaker for the nearly $40 million-per-year state-federal Medicaid program.

The rule, signed by Commissioner Tom Suehs on Thursday, takes effect March 14.

"Under federal law, states administer Medicaid and have the right to set the criteria for providers in the program. That is what Texas is doing," said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the agency. "We have a state law that our Attorney General says is constitutional, and it clearly bans abortion providers from taking part in the Women's Health Program. We can't violate a perfectly valid state law just to appease Washington. We hope CMS will reverse its position and allow the program to continue."

Unless some last-minute agreement is brokered, the program, which receives $9 in federal funds for every $1 in state funds, will be either phased out or cut off by the end of March. At least 130,000 poor Texas women will lose access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams and contraception.

Rebecca Acuna, a spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party, also said to the Texas Tribune:

"Texas Republicans never miss an opportunity to throw the most vulnerable Texans under the bus so that they can pick a fight with the federal government."

CBS Dallas Ft. Worth has video looking at the state's director of Health and Human Services, Commissioner Tom Suehs, newly signed rule:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards slammed the decision, saying, "Governor Perry and his conservative allies have once again chosen politics over the lives of Texas women. He will never know the reality of the women that rely on these programs. He will never know what it's like for a woman who feels a lump in her breast, but has to worry about the cost of a doctor's visit."

Gov. Perry "will never know what it's like for a woman who feels a lump in her breast, but has to worry about the cost of a doctor's visit."

Planned Parenthood added in a statement:

This is just the latest attack on women's health by Governor Perry and Texas legislators. Over the summer, Governor Perry signed a budget that slashed funding for women's health by two-thirds, resulting in more than 180,000 women losing access to preventive health care this year.

The federal government, which covers 90 percent of the cost of this program, has made clear to Texas -- and to all 50 states -- that a rule excluding a qualified provider like Planned Parenthood would not be allowed in the Medicaid program because it restricts the rights of patients in violation of federal law.

"Even as more than one-quarter of Texas women are uninsured, and women in Texas have the third highest rate of cervical caner in the country, Governor Perry is determined to make a bad situation worse for women in the state of Texas," Richards said. "Texas would rather throw health care for hundreds of thousands of women overboard than allow Planned Parenthood to provide health care like breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and STD prevention through public health programs."

This backdoor tactic is from the same playbook that Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina all attempted in 2011 and today's action comes after thousands of women -- from Virginia, to Idaho, to Missouri, to Capitol Hill -- have been mobilizing to fight back against attempts to restrict women's access to reproductive health care.

"What you're seeing around the country is a resounding message to all politicians: No one's politics should interfere with a woman's access to birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings," Richards concluded.

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