The Texas Women’s Health Program has been a little rocky for the past few years. Ever since the state kicked out providers like Planned Parenthood, the program has been struggling to provide reproductive health care to all the low-income women it’s supposed to serve. But state health officials have been working on improving the program. And after getting some feedback from around the state, state health officials say they are launching some big changes this Friday.
For one, the state’s reproductive health program – now called “Healthy Texas Women” – will be open to minors with parental consent. It used to be this program only served low-income women ages 18 to 44. But, according to Lesley French, the state’s associate commissioner for Women’s Health, doctors and stakeholders said that needed to change.
“So for doctors that’s been a concern of we know that women younger than 18 have needed family planning services. And so now this program has been designed to meet the need they see in their community,” French said.
Another change: more healthcare providers. In 2011, women could choose from just over 1,300 providers. That was the same year the state kicked out family planning providers in the program who also provide abortion services. There were also concerns the program didn’t have enough providers in rural areas. Now, French says the program is closing in on almost 5,000 providers.
“So, we have taken all of the feedback, both the good the bad, and the ugly, and worked together with providers and clients to develop a program that addresses all of those needs," she says.
A third change: more access to long-active, reversible contraceptives known as LARCs. A recent report from UT-Austin found the state’s Women’s Health Program was seeing fewer claims for LARCs like injections and IUDs. This raised concerns, because LARCs are pretty popular. And this past May, the Chair of the Public Health committee in the Texas House, Republican Rep. Myra Crownover, said they are a good way to get a handle of the state’s unintended pregnancy rate.
“Once again, the LARCs are such a tool,” Crownover said. “The reason so many women stay with bad partners is they’re pregnant – and, so, it’s a game-changer.”
French says she sent out toolkits to all Medicaid and women’s health providers letting them know they can provide LARCs to women who want them under the new program.