There are several ways to expand women’s access to healthcare, improve reproductive health, prevent unplanned pregnancies, and keep Texas families healthy. They vary in cost and effectiveness. Here are two options.
One: Fund women’s healthcare, accept federal Medicaid money, and let Planned Parenthood (one of the state’s largest providers of women’s health services) back into the Women’s Health Program.
Two: Donate $85,000 to a shady nonprofit that builds a glorified GeoCities site to “raise awareness” of existing healthcare programs.
I’m sure you can deduce which option sounds most appealing to GOP legislators.
You may remember back in 2013, when Republican Sen. Jane Nelson and Republican Rep. Jim Keffer hosted a fundraiser “benefiting outreach for the Texas Women’s Health Program.” The $85,000 (!!!) raised went to The Empowerment Project, a nonprofit with no website, email address, or phone number, founded by former Republican state rep Brian McCall. Hm.
Several months after the fundraiser, the “awareness-raising” product of this fundraiser was nowhere to be founded, and Burnt Orange Report began raising questions: “Exactly how much was raised by The Party, and what percentage of that money will go towards the campaign? At what capacity is the Empowerment Project involved? Who will make the final decisions in terms of content?”
Well, we finally have the answer to at least some of our questions. Last week, HealthyTexasWomen.org launched with the intent to, in the words of Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek, “help make those [women’s health] programs more accessible and more user-friendly.”
Ok, sure, checks out. The site allows women to select healthcare issues they face, like contraception, breast and cervical cancer screening, and smoking cessation. Then, they are directed to a page that explains the agencies and programs that exist to serve them.
For example, women looking for birth control can find a brief description of the Texas Women’s Health Program and a link to learn more about the program or find a healthcare provider.
But who exactly is this site helping? According to Janek, “No woman who qualifies for these health care services should go without because they are confused about where to turn.” Yes, I obviously agree—but the site offers no service except for hyperlinking visitors to other sites. Any woman who Googles “women’s health care services Texas” would find the link to the WHP site.
And where exactly did that $85 grand go? It certainly didn’t all get used to build the site. HealthyTexasWomen.org has a basic structure; one developer friend estimated that it would take one week and cost between $5k and $10k to build.
In other words, the site sounds like another failed all-talk-no-substance GOP rebranding attempt.
Listen, I understand that it can be difficult to navigate the labyrinth of government healthcare programs. I get it.
In fact, several years ago, I used the Women’s Health Program to get free birth control when I couldn’t afford it. I had no idea it existed until a doctor enrolled me in the program and wrote me a prescription for the pill. The months of free birth control that I received gave me peace of mind and protection from pregnancy as a teenager, and I am very grateful that the Women’s Health Program exists.
And like many other women, I would have never enrolled in the Women’s Health Program if I had not gone to Planned Parenthood looking for affordable healthcare.
There’s a reason why enrollment in the program was down 25% in 2013 after the GOP kicked Planned Parenthood out of WHP. Planned Parenthood serves many low-income women in Texas and encouraged patients to enroll in the program in they qualified. Women don’t need a website to tell them about state-funded healthcare programs—they need their trusted physicians to be able to offer it to them.
If we all agree that our objective should be to provide Texas women with easily accessible, affordable healthcare services, we shouldn’t be building websites. We should be rebuilding the Women’s Health Program and allowing Planned Parenthood to provide women with the care they need.