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Women's Health Program Still Has Provider Problems

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

The new state-funded Texas Women’s Health Program began on Jan. 1. It provides low income women in Texas with basic health screenings and contraception. State officials said the new program began with more capacity to serve clients then the program had when it was federally funded. But at least one state lawmaker believes there’s a problem with the agency’s list of providers.

Austin Democrat Donna Howard has been worried about the Women’s Health Program since the state said it would create its own version of the program. That came after the state moved to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers – such as Planned Parenthood – from participating, which led the federal government to announce it was pulling all funding. Howard was worried when she wrote a letter to the Health and Human Services Commission asking for information about new providers.

“I was told immediately upon sending this letter, by HHSC, that they were in the process of doing a study on this and would get back with me," Howard said.

The state run program’s new website does prominently show how to search for local providers. So yesterday Howard had one of her staff members go to the program website and see what might be available.

“One of my staff members actually typed in the zip code for 78701 and contacted the first 30 providers on that list," Howard said, "and only found five of the 30 who actually serve women in the Women’s Health Program.”

KUT called a few of the doctors on that list. Of the first three, two said they were not a provider in the program.

Linda Edwards Gockel is a spokesperson for Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She said last fall the commission was notified of problems with the list of providers.

“Our program staff worked with our claims contractor to eliminate the listing of duplicate providers, and those changes were effective November 1," Gockel said, "so now any duplications are ones that should be there, because a doctor may work out of more than one office. And that information is going to be important to a person who is looking for a provider.”

Gockel said the only way a provider can be listed on the website is if they have filed paperwork to enroll, although some may have applied accidentally.

“Anything that’s brought to our attention, we’ll contact that provider and say, 'Did you really mean to be on this list?' And make sure that that site has the best information, most accurate information we can put on it," Gockel said.

Representative Howard said a legislative measure to increase providers, such as allowing Planned Parenthood back into the Program, is unlikely. And even if lawmakers restored the millions cut to family planning providers in 2011, many of those clinics have shut their doors.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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