Texas Legislature considering bills aimed at expanding access to contraceptive drugs
The Texas House of Representatives referred House Bill 141, a measure that would require the state’s Medicaid CHIP plans to provide coverage for prescribed contraceptive resources, to the Public Health Committee on Thursday.
Texas is one of two states where contraception is not covered under CHIP. The proposal is one of several measures this session aimed at increasing access to contraceptives for individuals who are impacted by the state’s abortion ban.
In addition to CHIP coverage, proposals in both the Senate and House (Senate Bill 807 and HB 916) would require commercial health plans in the state to cover prescriptions of contraceptive drugs.
This year’s base budget has an $87 million increase in women’s health program funding, which would be significant in ensuring access to contraceptives and healthcare for young women, according to Katherine Strandberg, policy director at Every Body Texas.
She told State of Reform why her organization believes HB 141 is needed.
“We’re talking about 18-and-19-year-olds who can’t access contraception through their health coverage, and their only option would be to go to another [Texas] program to access contraception. But CHIP is full health coverage,” Strandberg said. “We don’t want them to lose that right.”
Every Body Texas, the country’s largest Title X grantee that runs the state’s Family Planning support, outlined expanding access to contraception as one of its top policy priorities for 2023. Strandberg said these initiatives would provide young women in underserved parts of the state better access to drugs. For instance, women could get a year’s supply of birth control pills, compared to just a 30-day supply.
The Guttmacher Institute said the Trump administration’s gag rule on Title X in 2019, which prohibits clinics receiving federal funding from providing pregnancy options counseling on abortion, and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer have led to more restrictive state policies that are eroding access to essential health services for adolescents.
It cited that unequal access to reproductive care is yielding poor health outcomes such as disparities in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Texas had the 9th highest teen birth rate in the country at 24 births per 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19.
Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) has introduced HB 2765 for this session, which would prohibit the use of state funds to grant emergency contraceptive drugs—post-coital drugs that prevent pregnancy—to providers.
In contrast, Democrats have filed several measures aimed at broadening access to contraception statewide. Sen. Nathan Johnson (D – Dallas) has introduced SB 366, which would allow children 16 years of age and older who are living on their own to access contraception-related services without the consent of a parent or guardian.
Rep. Donna Howard (D – Austin) is working to re-establish the Women’s Health Advisory Committee (WHAC), which was decommissioned last legislative session. WHAC served as a centralized forum of healthcare providers and thought leaders on issues and challenges facing women’s health to provide policy recommendations.
“Having a place where we are able to really talk about women’s healthcare, about sexual and reproductive healthcare, and then the ideas that come out of that really well-resourced, knowledgeable group of people [as] the source of recommendations for evidence-based policy is incredibly important,” Strandberg said. “So I’d really love to see [WHAC] come back.”
Other contraception-related measures up for consideration include HBs 1050, 1941, and 2853. HB 1050 would authorize the Texas State Board of Pharmacy to establish standard procedures for a pharmacist to dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow pharmacists to provide contraceptive care.
HB 2853 would issue a statewide order authorizing licensed pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives, while HB 1941 would prohibit state entities from restricting contraceptive access.