Other Voices

Increase women’s health funding

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Benjamin Franklin’s adage still holds true, especially when it comes to Texas women’s health care.

You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate that women’s preventive health care — including check-ups, cancer screenings, and contraception — means healthier babies, healthier mothers and lower costs for taxpayers. In fact, every dollar spent on contraceptive care saves more than seven dollars in prevented medical and social service costs.

Unplanned pregnancy is common, especially among low-income women. In 2010 there were 180,700 unplanned births in Texas, and 74 percent of those births were publicly funded, at a cost of $2.9 billion.

In 2011, severe funding cuts to Texas’ Family Planning program hit the women’s health safety net hard. In 2013, some of the largest providers were dropped from the Texas Women’s Health Program. Also in 2013, abortion restrictions were added, making access to contraception all the more urgent for Texas women.

Fortunately, the Legislature in 2013 restored the funding levels for women’s health preventive services through three different programs.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to ensure preventive care access for all Texas women. The Texas Women’s Health Program is struggling to recover its service levels and geographic reach.

Moreover, at current funding levels, only three in 10 of the more than 1.3 million Texas women in need of publicly subsidized contraception can get the services they need.

The 84th Legislature is in session, and the good news is that budget writers in both the House and Senate have included increased funding for women’s preventive health care.

As the two versions of the state’s budget proceed to conference committee, legislators have an opportunity to increase women’s health funding by $60 million, as in the Senate’s budget.

But lawmakers are considering consolidating some women’s health programs, and the continued recovery of the women’s health safety net depends on the details of the plan.

To participate, safety-net providers like public health clinics, county hospital district clinics, academic medical centers, family planning clinics and community health centers need a mix of grants and fee-for-service, as well as on-site “presumptive” eligibility determination. A short-term advisory committee of diverse providers is needed, as well.

The new women’s health programs have the potential to improve the lives of women and their families, with fewer unplanned pregnancies, early detection of treatable diseases and more savings for Texas.

As a mother, a native Texan, and an advocate for prevention, I want Texas to live up to its potential. Texans who agree need to urge our leaders to increase women’s health funding and to take care that any new programs support program growth and reach.

Aimee Z. Arrambide serves as Policy Associate for the Texas Women’s Health care Coalition.