Editorial: Perry’s health care law isn’t worth $35 million

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

Women’s health has been the surprising topic of much debate in this year’s political climate. The latest development, a dispute between the state of Texas and the federal government over funding for the Women’s Health Program, has raised both eyebrows and projected levels of state spending for the next fiscal year.

Texas enacted a law early this year that excludes Planned Parenthood from the state’s health care program. The Obama administration says this law violates a Medicaid provision, which says patients can have any qualified health care provider of their choice, including Planned Parenthood. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services will cut off all federal funding to the program, which currently provides 90 percent of the $40 million operation.

Texas leaders argue that the law does not violate the Medicaid provision because Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, is not a qualified health care provider.

Gov. Rick Perry defends the decision on the grounds that federal money cannot be used to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood says it is impossible that federal money was being secretly funneled toward abortion because the Women’s Health Program is a reimbursement program based on receipts, rather than a blank check.

When this was pointed out to the Texas governor in an interview with CBS news, he responded “Well, we would rather be very sure of it.”

$35 million sure?

That’s how much money the state budget is going to have to come up with to keep the health care program operating at the same level with the loss of federal funds. It seems like a lot of money to prove a point, especially a point that might very well be moot.

At no point has Perry or any other legislator backing this legislation pointed to data that suggests Planned Parenthood has been using federal funds to pay for abortions. Strong voices in the ensuing debate have insisted that the withdrawal of federal funds amounts to an attack on conservative Texas from a liberal White House. But as a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman told reporters when the cutoff was announced, the Bush administration also denied Texas the authority to restrict patients’ health care choice in 2005.

What the politics boil down to is the America-old struggle of states versus federal rights. While legislators claim they are diametrically opposed to funding any organization that has any connection to abortion, what they seem to actually be diametrically opposed to is allowing the federal government to have any say in state operations. While this is a valid political viewpoint, one must remember that the state of Texas is accepting $35 million federal dollars annually, and only supplementing that with five million state dollars.

Here are two major problems with this power play.

First: Texas does not have $35 million dollars to fill the gap. Texas does not even have enough money for its current budget. Perry has assured women that the Women’s Health Program will continue without change because the Legislature will find the money, but one really has to wonder, from where? And if it is so simple to find $35 million, why haven’t we put that to good use before now?

Second: Women would really appreciate it if men could find a new issue to attack. The number of facetious comments posted on Perry’s Facebook make it clear women do not appreciate the coming changes. After the ire produced by the contraception debate, one might have thought legislators would want to let the hornet’s nest rest.

Instead, the governor who once tried to mandate that all sixth grade girls must take the HPV vaccine wants to make sure the federal government is not telling Texas what to do.

Texas cannot afford a $35 million health care law just to make a point. We need to scrap it for everyone’s sake.