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Texas brings hell on women’s health
August 14, 2017 Updated: August 14, 2017 11:47am
Fellow Texan and columnist Molly Ivins summed it up best: “Texas is a fine place for men and dogs, but hell on women and horses.”
About a quarter of Texas women don’t have health insurance, and half do not get the care they know they need, according to a devastating article by my colleague Jenny Deam.
Women make up half the workforce, and according to census figures a slight majority of the U.S. population, so their suffering and undiagnosed health problems create costs and burdens that ultimately hurt our economy and slow our businesses. About 1.3 million women who need routine checkups and birth control can’t afford it and can’t access it, according to the Texas Women’s Health Coalition.
“When we take away that safety net, and women don’t have access to that, we see a progression of undetected breast and cervical cancer, undetected diabetes and high blood pressure, and of course the occurrence of unplanned pregnancy,” Dr. Lisa Ehrlich, president of the Harris County Medical Society, said.
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Texas has the most people without health insurance in the nation, and the Legislature’s hostility to Obamacare has meant the uninsured rate among women has dropped only 1 percentage point since 2012 to 24 percent. Not to mention the Republican effort to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics, whether they provide abortions or not, has cut off a critical source of free contraception.
Lack of access to health care, and birth control, has led to 3,230 additional unplanned pregnancies, many of them delivered by teen mothers, according to the independent National Bureau of Economic Research. Elsewhere in the country, and in most poor countries around the world, the unplanned and teen pregnancy rates are going down, not up.
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A surge in unplanned pregnancies since Texas lawmakers reduced funding for family planning in 2011 has cost taxpayers $2.9 billion a year, according to coalition. The teen pregnancy rate has also shot up.
“Those young girls who have babies are much more likely to live their lives out in poverty, and their babies will, too,” Ehrlich said. “That’s something where we keep paying down the line.”
Another outcome of Texas’ sorry state of women’s health care is the nation’s highest maternal mortality rate. Texas went from 18.6 deaths per 100,000 births in 2010, which was the national average, to 33.8 in 2014. Armenia, Uruguay and Sri Lanka provide better maternal care than Texas.
The human toll of these health care failures is immense, with families losing loved ones and lives made more challenging. But these problems are not strictly humanitarian. Unhealthy women, premature deaths and unplanned pregnancies hold our economy back by taking people out of the workforce, diverting taxpayer dollars away from other priorities and raising health care costs for everyone.
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In communities with high rates of uninsured, even people with insurance suffer from diminished access to quality services. The best doctors and hospitals go to communities where patients have insurance and therefore can pay their bills, not to places where a high percentage can’t pay, according to the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences.
“Local communities tend to bear the main economic burden of subsidizing service delivery,” researchers reported.
Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year vetoed a bill to fund an expert panel investigating maternal mortality and teen pregnancies in Texas, though he’s now asked the Legislature to reinstate it. But another blue ribbon panel will only tell us what we already know: Providing poor women with Medicaid, or subsidized private insurance, keeps them healthier, more likely to work, less likely to suffer and less likely to burden taxpayers.
That fact, though, apparently means little to conservatives who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, eliminate health care exchanges and cut Medicaid spending. They reject the idea that health care is a right, and they expect individuals to take care of themselves or pay the consequences.
Ideologically, that may sound appealing, but it fails in practice. As a society, we don’t deny people health care based on their ability to pay. If someone needs emergency help, our doctors and professionals provide it without demanding proof of insurance.
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When we allow a quarter of Texas women to go without insurance and accept that more than half don’t get the care they need, we guarantee that they will end up in the emergency department. They might be near death and will definitely run up huge bills. And more than likely, they will suffer from a condition that could have been prevented for a penny on the dollar. That’s the definition of penny wise and pound foolish, and to think that we’re not all in this together is foolishness.
Texas women deserve better, and the best part of giving them the care they need is that we’ll be doing what’s best for us, too.