American Independent, 11/2/2012 [Archive]

'Why are they making this more difficult for us?'

'Why are they making this more difficult for us?'

By Mary Tuma, The American Independent

When Texas decided to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from its Medicaid-funded women's health care program, women like Crystal Gonzalez were left scrambling for a new provider.

Using a state-crafted database with more than 200 practitioners listed within 30 miles of her ZIP code, the college student was initially impressed by the scope of options. But soon after calling around, she realized the entries were somewhat misleading.

She called one doctor's office that was listed twice in the database.

"Oh, no. This is a children's clinic," the voice on the other end of the line replied. "Have you tried Planned Parenthood?"

Noting the irony, Gonzalez sighed and moved along to the next entry listed.

Gonzalez's story has the potential to be repeated across the country, as conservative state legislators move to defund Planned Parenthood and Mitt Romney pledges to "end federal funding" for the organization.

Gonzalez, 20, has relied on Planned Parenthood in the South Texas border city of Weslaco as her only form of health care for the past two years. In Hidalgo County -- an area riddled with poverty and high uninsured rates -- the family planning service is integral to maintaining a healthy life for many.

However, a rule signed earlier this year by then-state Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs -- and promoted by conservative Republican legislators and Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- barred Planned Parenthood clinics from participating in the program because they are affiliated with an abortion provider. The state did this despite the fact that federal and state money was already prohibited from being used for abortion.

Arguing that Texas' actions violated federal law, the federal government announced it would not renew its 90-percent share of the Women's Health Program, leaving Texas to come up with its own funding plan.

As a result, Gonzalez and more than 50,000 low-income women may soon be kicked out of Planned Parenthood, the most widely used provider in the program. They would then have to obtain their basic reproductive and preventative health care -- like pap smears, cancer screenings, diabetes exams, birth control, and STD tests -- elsewhere.

In an effort to make the transition smoother for women, the health commission created a searchable online database for the displaced patients.

Yet, instead of making the process less complicated, the list is garnering complaints from providers and patients alike for its questionable search results and inflated entries.

A frustrated Crystal Gonzalez experiences these difficulties when looking for a new provider.

She runs into several duplicate entries, clinics that were not accepting new Women's Health Program clients at the time, and listings for Planned Parenthood. In the end, she was left with nine actual providers to choose from out of 29 entries, and many of them have limited capacity.

"Well, that's exhausting and confusing," said Gonzalez. "I'm pretty offended that some of these unavailable options are listed. Why are they making this more difficult for us?"

The problems reinforce serious uncertainty from health experts over displaced Planned Parenthood clients finding services in their area.

A study conducted by George Washington University found that in order to realistically make up for the loss of Planned Parenthood, the state's community health centers would have to expand their Women's Health Program capacity"five-fold," from about 10,000 to more than 62,000 patients.

In light of simultaneous budget cuts to family planning services, "such an expansion in a short time period is virtually impossible," the study found.

Texas health commissioner Kyle Janek has acknowledged that the error-prone database is "a real problem," and his agency says it is "looking at ways to improve the online search."

But fixing the database, while important, may not be enough. In Hidalgo County, where Gonzalez is searching for a new doctor, more than 80 percent of Women's Health Program enrollees utilize Planned Parenthood, according to George Washington University.

Patricio Gonzales, who runs the county's Planned Parenthood network, warns the new rules will create a "domino effect."

"When access to family planning decreases, pregnancy and abortion rates will rise," he says. "The health of the community is jeopardized and we all suffer down the road."

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©Copyright 2012 The American Independent, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

The American Independent is a nonprofit newsroom that funds and publishes independent investigative journalism, and can be reached at editor@americanindependent.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.



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