Cynthia Wilson knows she’s lucky to be alive.
But five years after she found lumps on her body — and had surgery to successfully remove ovarian cancer despite not having insurance — she worries that other Texas women might not be as fortunate.
Especially now that state lawmakers debating changing the way breast and cervical cancer screening programs are financed could end up cutting funding for some clinics that need the money to keep their doors open.
“Real lives are affected by what [the lawmakers] are doing,” said Wilson, 57, of Dallas, a former University of Texas at Arlington student. “Lives are at risk because of this attitude.”
At issue is a Senate proposal to change the way the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening state and federal dollars are distributed, creating a tiered system that would put private clinics such as Planned Parenthood — the group Wilson credits with saving her life — on the bottom of the funding rung.
“If we don’t have the provider network, women cannot be served,” state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, a breast cancer survivor, has said. “And they will die.”
Sen. Jane Nelson, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, has said this proposed change is designed to help Texas women and make sure that clinics that do not provide abortions get funding for these screenings first.
“It is always good policy to prioritize settings that provide comprehensive care,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound, whose district includes part of Tarrant County. “It is also the clear policy of this state to limit public dollars from flowing to abortion providers and their affiliates.”
But a rider was recently added to the Senate budget that directs the state to transfer “necessary funds” to the screening program in case federal funding is dropped or reduced because of the proposed funding tiers.
“Every woman who is eligible to receive these services now can continue to receive them under this rider, and I am committed to ensuring that we have statewide coverage in our provider network,” Nelson said.
The Senate’s proposed budget creates a tiered system for funding breast and cervical cancer screenings through the program, giving higher priority to public and government-run health centers over private and nonprofit clinics. Critics worry that some clinics could lose needed funding for these screenings.
Some Texans contend that women — and services to help them — have been under attack by the Legislature for years.
Four years ago, funding cuts were made to family planning services, prompting a number of clinics statewide to close.
Two years ago, after Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, waged an 11-hour-plus filibuster against new abortion restrictions, the conservative Legislature went on to approve those changes weeks later. More clinics closed.
Now the Senate is considering the new tiered system, which puts government-run clinics, including providers such as JPS Health Network and Tarrant County’s public health department, at the top of the funding priority list.
Private clinics that provide these breast and cervical cancer screenings as part of regular comprehensive preventive and primary care would make up the second tier.
The third and lowest tier for funding, if any money is left, would be private entities that provide breast and cervical cancer screenings, but not comprehensive primary services, such as Planned Parenthood.
“This is just plain good policy,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life, who advocated for this change. “We prioritize the funding without cutting any funding.
“My concern is that women receive as close as possible to excellent care in Texas,” he said. “We want to protect taxpayers from being forced to fund organizations that use tax dollars that promote abortion for birth control.”
Some critics of the proposed funding change say Planned Parenthood may be the only place for some uninsured women diagnosed with cervical or breast cancer to get the care they need.
Health centers the provide the screening can enroll those women in the Medicaid for Breast and Cervical Cancer Program to pay for needed treatment. And in some parts of the state, Planned Parenthood may be the only screening provider, some officials say.
“This is politicians playing politics with women’s lives,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, wrote in a recent op-ed.
This year, Planned Parenthood officials predict their Texas clinics will serve more than 2,200 women.
‘This is not about abortion’
Wilson said she didn’t know what to do five years ago when she found two lumps — one in her breast and one in her stomach.
She didn’t have insurance because she has served for years as caretaker for her elderly parents.
“I felt like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “I didn’t know where to go, where to turn.
“God love her, my then-81-year-old mom said, ‘What about Planned Parenthood?’” Wilson said. “Literally it was that screening program that saved my life.”
The screening showed that the lump in her breast was benign but the “funny lump” in her stomach was not.
She went to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and had lifesaving surgery, followed by six cycles of chemotherapy.
“To this day, I thank my lucky stars every morning,” Wilson said. “I hear a lot of falsehoods about Planned Parenthood. This is not about abortion.
“To blindly try to defund Planned Parenthood operations in Texas is just so unbelievably shortsighted,” she said. “They saved my life. And they will save countless other men and women’s lives.”
Because of ongoing changes to women’s health providers, Nelson unveiled a new website last year to help women get the healthcare they need, www.healthytexaswomen.org.
Between that and the rider that was recently added to the Senate’s proposed budget, to ensure funding for the screening program, Nelson said she’s working to make sure women have that healthcare.
But a Planned Parenthood official criticizes the state’s record.
“When it comes to women’s health, political talking points don’t match with Texas’ public health track record,” said Sarah J. Wheat, vice president for community affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “Each time the Texas Legislature targets a program for uninsured, low-income women to score political points, Texas women lose access to essential healthcare and preventive exams.
“This time, we’re even more concerned because uninsured women who have symptoms of breast or cervical cancer need immediate, lifesaving access to healthcare. By reducing the number of healthcare providers of this program, Texas women are at risk.”
Planned Parenthood officials are asking lawmakers to leave the funding mechanism for the screening program alone. And they’ve launched a campaign, Save Our Screenings, and an online petition to help with the effort.
Screenings are a priority
Planned Parenthood isn’t alone.
Some health organizations that have nothing to do with abortion could also stand to lose funding.
Texas-based Solis Women’s Health, the country’s largest mammogram provider, provides mammograms and biopsies.
The business works to make sure every woman who needs a mammogram gets one, which is why it provides coupons to let uninsured women pay $99 to get the screening.
But that’s out of the price range for some uninsured women who go to Planned Parenthood and are referred to Solis.
In those cases, “Planned Parenthood pays for the mammograms and we do it at the BCCS rate,” said Greg Scott, director of Solis’ client relations.
That tie-in could cost some Solis clinics in Texas funding under the Senate plan.
Officials at Solis would prefer to not be cut out of funding. But if money shifts, they hope it goes to other providers who can make sure that Texas women who need breast and cervical cancer screenings get them.
“Solis doesn’t have anything to do with abortions and it’s regrettable we are on this,” Scott said. “We would prefer women come to Solis for mammograms.
“But if this frees up more money to help women who are unable to get mammograms, I’m fine with that.”
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610
Breast and Cervical Cancer Services Program
The Healthy Texas Women website details services that are available in Texas.
According to the website, women eligible for the federal- and state-funded Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program can get screenings and diagnostic testing free or at low cost, such as:
▪ Pelvic exams and Pap testing
▪ Clinical breast exams
▪ Breast ultrasounds
▪ Breast and cervical biopsies
The BCCS program also may help with some other treatments, including follow-up Pap tests, loop electrosurgical excision procedures, cervical cryotherapy and cervical conizations.
The BCCS program does not cover treatment for breast or cervical cancer, but Medicaid for Breast or Cervical Cancer does. Women can apply for the Medicaid program at some clinics that participate in the BCCS program.
To find a clinic in your area visit the DSHS Family and Community Health Services Clinic Locator.
Source: Healthy Texas Women