Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Texas Women’s Health Program Launching Nov. 1

The new state-run Texas Women’s Health Program is set to launch Nov. 1 without federal funding, without Planned Parenthood, and without gagging a doctor’s ability to counsel his or her patients.

Texas’ Women’s Health Program (WHP) provides checkups and birth control, but not abortion, to 115,000 low-income, uninsured women age 18-44 who would qualify for Medicaid if they became pregnant. In the past, the program was funded 90 percent by the federal government. After Texas legislators excluded Planned Parenthood and other “abortion affiliates” from participating as providers in the program, the federal government withdrew funding. Governor Rick Perry decided Texas would continue program but foot the bill on its own.  Planned Parenthood has sued the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to remain in the WHP.  The new rules governing the redesigned WHP includes a “poison pill” provision, which would eliminate the program entirely if Planned Parenthood prevails in the lawsuit.

After strong opposition from the Texas Medical Association, Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, MD, pulled the “gag clause” from the revised WHP rules. The gag clause would have forbidden physicians participating in the WHP from discussing abortion with a patient, even if the patient inquired. The new rule allows for “neutral, factual information and nondirective counseling” but still prohibits physicians who promote or perform abortions from participating.

TMA President Michael Speer, MD, praised the change. “It is very important that patients are able to trust that their doctor is giving the best medical advice for them —based on their medical needs and nothing else,” he said.

TMA remains very concerned about the program’s long-term viability — and for the women it serves — as the state tries to run the program without $35 million a year in federal funding.

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