After Texas blocked abortion providers’ participation in its Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the White House officially notified the state Thursday afternoon that it will pull all funds from the program, which totalled about $39 million last year. Tafolla and I spoke yesterday afternoon about what this change means for her clinics, what she expects will happen to patients and how she’s preparing. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length:
Sarah Kliff: Now that the White House has determined it won’t fund the Texas Women’s Health Program, what does that mean for your patients?
Rochelle Tafolla: It’s incredibly disappointing news for Planned Parenthood as an affiliate, and as an organization whose goal is for women to have access to affordable health care. It’s terrible news for the women of Texas. A quarter of Texas women don’t have health insurance, and this is their lifeline. To see that Governor Perry would rather score political points than focus on women’s health care, it strikes me as a pretty callous move forward.
SK: Tell me a bit about the patients you serve in this program. Who are they and what kind of care do they get from your clinics?
RT: This has been an incredible program for the women who come to us. It’s essentially for women who would be eligible for Medicaid if they were pregnant, but aren’t, and many are working poor. This is often their life-saver. It allows them to come in and get a well-woman exam so they’re grateful to know they can get everything they need taken care of. Last year saw a little more than 16,000 women. We along with the other Planned Parenthood have been single largest provider in the Texas Women’s Health Program. Women historically know they can trust us.
SK: What does it mean for Texas patients to lose this funding?
RT: It depends for each affiliate. Here in Houston we have a broader base of support, I would say. We have a lot of generous donors who provide some care, so we have been preparing knowing that we may need to provide more charitable funding. We’ve been working with our patients to make them aware that this program may go away. With the Women’s Health Program, a woman could walk out of our clinics with 12 months of birth control. Now, maybe we can work it out so they get six months and then come back. We’re trying to think those things through.
SK: Will you be closing any clinics?
RT: Some affiliates have had to close clinics because of the tightening. We are not anticipating that. But we are going to have to figure out ways to cut corners to make sure we’re here when women need us.
SK: Do you have any kind of recourse here? Any way that you could see where this funding might be restored?
RT: At one point we were exploring our legal options. That was the whole reason they granted the state an extension [before announcing Thursday it would end funding]. But the state can’t exclude a provider in this way, and patients have the right to choose who they want. That’s not up to the politicians. So right now we don’t see anything. We are looking into our options, but other than that, are mostly focused on how to get these women their health care.