Since Texas defunded Planned Parenthood in 2011 there has been an endless parade of studies arguing that the Lone Star State is facing a public-health crisis. The latest such study emerged last week, conducted by the Texas-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, and it argues that Texas’s choice to defund Planned Parenthood has been “terrible for Texas women.” The study examines the Texas Women’s Health Program and its successor program, Healthy Texas Women and found that, since 2011, there have been substantial declines in program enrollment, clients accessing health care, and clients accessing contraceptive services.
A more nuanced look at the numbers tells a different story. First, the large share of enrollment decline in the Texas Women’s Health Program took place among women under the age of 30. In fact, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the number of women over 30 who enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program actually increased during this time period. The enrollment decline among younger women is likely due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires companies to cover dependents under the age of 26. As a result, women under 30 are more likely to have obtained health-care coverage through their parents’ insurance plans.
Much of the decline in clients accessing health-care seems to have occurred solely because fewer women are choosing to obtain contraceptives through the Texas Women’s Health Program. Some other services provided by the program actually saw an increase in clients over this time period. For instance, according to Texas Health and Human Services, the number of women obtaining breast and cervical cancer services increased between 2010 and 2015. There was a decline in 2016, but that might have been due to the fact that the American Cancer Association recently recommended against annual screening for cervical cancer.
Even if the number of women accessing contraceptives through these publicly funded programs actually did decline, that fact may not be all that worrisome. According to Texas Health and Human Services, a higher percentage of Texas women are choosing to use Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs), which would require fewer visits to the physician and might account for some of the decrease in clients. What’s more, a substantial amount of economics and public-health research questions the efficacy of programs designed to encourage contraceptive use, making the decline in such use less concerning.
Interestingly, this study only examines enrollment data for the Texas Women’s Health Program and Healthy Texas Women between 2011 and 2016. In 2017, the Texas legislature allocated additional funding to advertise the services offered by Healthy Texas Women. According to a May article in the Dallas Morning News, between last July and this March enrollment in Healthy Texas Women skyrocketed from 93,020 to 169,361 — an 82 percent increase. It is disappointing, if unsurprising, that the Center for Public Policy Priorities failed to include this essential information in its study. Once again, this study is an all-too-frequent example of an advocacy group cherrypicking data for political reasons, creating the impression of a public-health crisis, rather than providing an accurate picture of women’s health in the Lone Star State.