THOMAS M. SUEHS
Date: Mar. 23, 2012
Contact: Stephanie Goodman, 512-424-6951
Texans Can Rely on Women’s Health Program
By Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs
As head of the state’s lead health agency, I believe it’s important to cut through the scare tactics and misinformation campaigns about the Women’s Health Program. Despite what you may have read or heard, I can assure you – and the thousands of women who rely on the program – that the state will continue to provide these vital services even without the federal government’s help.
The Texas Women’s Health Program provides family planning services and preventive health screenings to more than 100,000 low-income women who wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid unless they were pregnant.
Despite the Women’s Health Program’s value and success – the program pays for itself and saves the state about $20 million a year – the federal government has announced it will stop funding the program because state law prohibits tax dollars from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions. Federal law clearly gives states the right and responsibility to establish the criteria for qualified Medicaid providers, so we’re on firm legal ground, and Attorney General Greg Abbott is suing to reinstate federal funding for the program.
While I can’t predict when the legal issue will be resolved, I know with great certainty the services provided by the Women’s Health Program aren’t going anywhere. Gov. Perry has directed us to continue providing these vital services to low-income Texas women, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.
Much more challenging, however, is making sure women get accurate information about the program in the midst of organized attempts to confuse and frighten those who rely on it.
This debate is not about allowing women to choose their doctor. All Medicaid clients are already limited to selecting doctors who accept Medicaid, and the federal government routinely allows states to limit access for any number of reasons. In fact, on the same day Washington raised questions about provider choice in the Women’s Health Program, the same agency waived that requirement and allowed the state to set provider lists for all other medical services, dental services and pharmacy services in the Texas Medicaid program.
Many people have asked how quickly we can have a state program up and running. The answer is simple: We already have a state program. The Women’s Health Program receives federal funding, but it’s as Texan as bluebonnets. Texas created the program. Texas state workers process the enrollment applications from women seeking the coverage. Texas operates the system that pays the doctors and providers that perform the services.
Others have asked if we’ll still have the capacity to serve Texas women if we exclude abortion providers from the program. The answer is an unequivocal yes. We’ll still have 2,500 doctors and clinics in the program providing care at more than 4,600 sites in Texas. Access to services in rural and remote areas will be much the same as it is today. The vast majority of women won’t have to travel any farther.
Women can still enroll by calling 2-1-1. Eligible providers can continue to bill for services. Gov. Perry’s actions mean there won’t be a single day of disruption.
It’s important that Texas stands its ground and defends the right of states to establish criteria for our Medicaid providers consistent with state law. To do less would undermine our ability to exclude anyone from Medicaid for any reason, including those who steal from the system, cheat on their taxes or harm their patients.
We’ll continue to press for federal funding for the Women’s Health Program because it’s the right thing to do for Texas taxpayers. We’ll continue to provide services during our battle with Washington bureaucracy because it’s the right thing to do for Texas women.