By James Lee
From Ann Richards to Selena Quintanilla, and Barbara Jordan to Annise Parker, the Lone Star State is home to some of the most remarkable women in recent history. Unfortunately, women’s healthcare in Texas is nothing to write home about.
Economic insecurity plays a substantial role in limiting access to care. Women in Texas are more likely to earn less income than men, and are also more likely to live in poverty. There are over three million Texas women at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, earning $23,000 or less per year. And we know women in poverty and their children are more likely to face health challenges like heart disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease. Lesbians and transgender women face similar risks to their health, with added risk of obesity, suicide, and violence.
While many of the ailments that affect Texas women are preventable, there are numerous barriers to accessing healthcare—and state government isn’t making it any easier.
Women in Texas have some of the highest uninsured rates in the country, and face higher healthcare costs as a consequence. The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, was created to remove some of the barriers to healthcare, including making insurance more affordable. Under the law, Texas would have received over $100 billion over 10 years to implement changes to the state’s healthcare system, and as a result would have seen a sharp decrease in the rate of uninsured women. However, some conservative lawmakers argue Obamacare encourages dependency on the government and have refused to implement the law since its passage in 2010, despite support from numerous business coalitions and medical providers.
In 2011 Texas saw massive budget cuts to women’s healthcare, forcing many health facilities to shut down. Lawmakers behind the cuts sought to remove Planned Parenthood from state funding in order to reduce the number of abortions in Texas. Despite numerous reports, state legislators looked past data warning that the cuts would affect the well-being of all low-income women, and not just those of childbearing age. After the cuts, 30,000 women were left without access to cancer screenings, well-woman exams, and sexual health services. While the state has worked to correct the shortfalls caused by the cuts, many Texas women were and are left without access to basic preventative care, and according to a 2016 report by the New England Journal of Medicine, it increased the number of taxpayer-funded childbirths.
Over 100,000 uninsured LGBT Texans are estimated to live in the Houston area. In addition to the existing barriers to care for these women, the growing anti-LGBT rhetoric creates an unnerving and unhealthy environment. When transgender women, for instance, are able to access healthcare, many report having a negative experience visiting the doctor’s office. In some instances, women have experienced an outright refusal of care because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status, regardless of the reason for the patient’s visit. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, when LGBT patients experience this kind of treatment, they are less likely to return and more likely to self-medicate, leading to further health complications.
The most recent cause for concern for pregnant women’s health in the Lone Star State is the increasing threat of the Zika virus. The virus is causing birth defects in thousands of pregnant women who live in Central and South American countries. The U.S. alone has seen more than 350 cases—with a growing number in Texas—due to travel to the affected countries. The Obama administration has called on Congress to release emergency funding in response to the potential public-health crisis, but congressional lawmakers have yet to act. Legacy’s CEO, Katy Caldwell, has said, “Partisan wrangling over public health should not slow the all-hands-on-deck response we need to find a vaccine, increase mosquito controls, and help patients with care.”
Texas lives up to its powerhouse reputation, but there is surely a lot of room for growth when it comes to women’s health. If you want to support the women in your life, support them with more than just flowers on special occasions every now and again. Support the women in your life by advocating for their healthcare. When women succeed, we all succeed.
James Lee is the public affairs field specialist at Legacy Community Health and focuses on minority health, mental health, and civic engagement. Lee is an alumnus of the University of Houston and can be found on Twitter @jamesmateolee.