Governor Perry has vowed to keep the Women’s Health Program alive. The cost of the now-defunct program is $35 million, so that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, finding the money is the easy part.
The hard part is putting together a program that works. Start with the obvious problem: Where are the women who were formerly getting services from Planned Parenthood going to go? Federally Qualified Health Centers? They are already stretched thin to provide services to sick people–plus, their resources were diminished by the legislative zest for budget cuts last session, which one health official described to me as “a frat party that got out of control.” Emergency rooms? Their job is to take care of emergencies, not to provide routine gynecological services and contraceptives. (Not to mention that emergency room care is the most expensive care in the system, and the use of emergency rooms for the program amounts to a Perry-imposed property tax increase for taxpayers in local hospital districts.)
The next issue is who will be the providers? A lot of doctors aren’t going to want to perform these services, because they don’t bring in a lot of money.
Finally, the state can’t set up a health care system without a lot of planning. Computer programs will have to be developed to track payments and to take care of billings and potential fraud. You can’t just snap your fingers and develop a new system.
I wonder if a state program will be created at all. Perry attempted to defuse the issue when he said he would make sure that the program is continued. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the last we hear of it. It all depends upon what Perry’s definition of a program is.
This issue is just another one of those symbolic fights that Perry loves to pick with the federal government. They have come to dominate Texas politics. The only public policy that matters in this state is scoring points with the far right. The state had a provider that was performing the services, and it was getting lots of money from the federal government, but because the provider was Planned Parenthood, we threw the baby out with the bathwater.