Texas Finally Realizes Where Babies Come From, May Restore Family Planning Money

Last legislative session, your lawmakers in the Texas Legislature cut $73.6 million from the state's family planning budget, a move which, impressively, has somehow resulted in far fewer patients being served, for more money per patient.

Don't ask us how they managed that one. As Emily Ramshaw writes this morning in the Texas Tribune , those same lawmakers are now realizing that less family planning money equals more babies, many of whom will be eligible for Medicaid. Which the state helps pay for. You see where this is going.

New figures from the Health and Human Services Commission indicate that in 2014 and 2015, poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have if they'd had access to affordable birth control. The cost of all those babies in state and federal funds is an estimated $273 million, most of which comes from the additional Medicaid costs.

Armed with that new information, Ramshaw writes, a coalition of lawmakers are discussing how to restore some of the family planning money as a cost-saving measure. In fact, they could have had that conversation last year, when they were first told about all these extra babies and how much they would cost.

As we wrote about in a cover story on family planning funding, the same lawmakers acting shocked and amazed at these totally unexpected babies were given more or less the exact same figures by the Legislative Budget Board last year.

Just one week after the new budget passed, the Texas Observer obtained a memo the LBB had previously sent to state lawmakers. It predicted that 284,000 low-income women would lose access to healthcare as a result of the cuts, with around 20,000 additional births being billed to Medicaid. That would cost the state $100 million over the next two years, and a total of $231 million in combined state and federal funds. Uncanny, how accurate that was, if a little on the low side.

If these same politicians are now actually paying attention to family planning, they might possibly be able to prevent the impending crisis that kicking Planned Parenthood out of the Women's Health Program is likely to cause. A very good analysis in the Dallas Morning News yesterday showed that in the Dallas area, there are simply not enough non-PP practitioners left in the program to serve all the patients who need a new healthcare provider.

Andrea Grimes did a similar analysis months ago for WHP providers in the Austin area , with the same terrible results. (Several of the doctors she called didn't actually provide family planning services at all, and had no idea why they were being listed as WHP providers. "If you want a colonoscopy, call us back!" one receptionist said cheerily.)

And of course, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine said more or less the same things, back in September : that the disappearance of family planning funding is dismantling the social safety net, with heavy costs to the state, the taxpayers, and most importantly, the health of poor women and families.

Even if the political will is now there, though, healthcare advocates have been warning since last year that it's going to be difficult to restore infrastructure and funding that's already in the process of being dismantled. So just remember this: when your lawmakers act shocked and surprised at the consequences of these cuts, they clearly haven't been paying attention. Or else they simply didn't care until those consequences hit them square in the budget.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan