Gov. Tony Evers will propose spending nearly $28 million in his first budget to fund efforts to expand access to women's health care, reduce infant mortality rates and restore eligibility to Planned Parenthood for funding that was stripped away under former Gov. Scott Walker.
The governor's "Healthy Women, Healthy Babies" plan would create an Infant Mortality Prevention Program within the state Department of Health Services, expand post-partum coverage for mothers insured under Medicaid, increase grant funding for programs aimed at reducing health disparities and boost funding for programs and grants that help provide cancer screenings and STI testing.
Evers, who is scheduled to release his entire two-year budget proposal on Feb. 28, shared advance details of the proposal with the Cap Times. The proposal was shared on the condition that its details not be shared with others before publication.
"We can’t have healthy communities without healthy women and babies," Evers said in a statement. "That is why my budget will connect the dots and increase access and coverage, as well as create innovative programs to ensure quality health care for women, and healthy beginnings for our children."
Addressing racial disparities
Evers' plan places a priority on reducing racial disparities in maternal and child health. For the past 30 years in Wisconsin, a black infant has been two to three times more likely to die in the first year of life than a white infant — the second-largest gap in the nation.
Between 2014 and 2016, the infant mortality rate for white infants was 4.8 per 1,000 live births, compared to 14.2 deaths per 1,000 live births for black infants.
Under Evers' proposal, five existing DHS positions would be reallocated to staff an Infant Mortality Prevention Program. The program would help families secure jobs, stable housing and access to nutritional and family supports.
The proposal would also boost funding for the Family Foundations Home Visiting Program administered by the state Department of Children and Families. The program, which serves mothers who are at risk for a poor birth outcome based on factors including poverty, substance abuse and domestic violence, would receive an additional $3.2 million from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant to help. The program currently serves 16 counties and four tribes.
Evers will also propose putting $767,200 in the state's Minority Health Grant, which funds organizations that serve disadvantaged communities of color with high health disparities.
Expanding Medicaid services
The largest investment in Evers' proposal is a measure to extend Medicaid eligibility for post-partum health coverage. Evers would add $22.9 million in new funding and instruct DHS to seek a waiver to extend coverage for women insured under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) from 60 days post-birth to a full year.
DHS would also spend $618,700 over the course of the budget to fund doula training and services. Doulas generally offer emotional and physical support to mothers before, during or after labor. The bulk of the DHS funding, $426,700, would cover reimbursement for doula services provided to women covered by Medicaid. The rest would fund organizations that train workers to mentor pregnant women.
Funding preventative screenings, Planned Parenthood
Evers will propose increasing funding for the state's Women's Health Block Grant by $387,200. The program, funded by a combination of state dollars and Federal Title V funds, gives money to public health departments and private organizations that offer services including cancer screenings, STI prevention, testing and treatment, pregnancy testing and prenatal counseling.
Since Walker's first budget, Planned Parenthood has been ineligible for Title V and Women's Health Block Grant funds. Walker's 2011-13 budget banned the funds from going to any entity that provides abortion services or any organization that has an affiliate that provides abortion services — resulting in a loss of about $1 million in state funding for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin.
Following that change — hailed as a victory by anti-abortion advocates — five Planned Parenthood clinics that did not offer abortions shut their doors.
Evers' budget proposal would once again make Planned Parenthood eligible for the Title V funds.
In the years after his first budget, Walker signed into law a series of measures that further chipped away at Planned Parenthood's funding.
Early in his first term, he ended a contract with the organization to administer services for the state’s Well Woman Program in four counties. In 2016, he signed into law a pair of bills stripping the organization of an estimated $7.5 million in federal funding by placing limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program and by preventing the organization from being sub-granted federal Title X funds by the state.
Both state and federal laws already ban federal money from funding abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at stake. But anti-abortion advocates argue that because some Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions, any federal money the organization receives indirectly subsidizes those procedures.
Planned Parenthood officials have argued that, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the organization's ability to exist and provide patient care like well woman exams, contraception and STD screening, prevention and treatment depends on its compliance with the laws that prevent the commingling of those funds.
Evers' budget would also reinstate Planned Parenthood's eligibility to be sub-granted Title X funds.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been the direct recipient of federal Title X funds for more than 35 years. According to the organization, Planned Parenthood serves about 31,000 Title X patients.
The governor's proposal would also increase funding by $200,000 for the Well Woman Program, which provides preventative health screenings for women ages 45-64 with little or no health insurance coverage, whose income falls at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
Evers will also call on DHS to develop a plan, with stakeholder input, to improve coverage and ensure that women don't have to drive more than an hour to receive the screenings covered by the Well Woman Program, which include mammograms and tests for cervical cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Evers' plans to restore Planned Parenthood's eligibility for federal funds are likely to face opposition from groups like Wisconsin Right to Life, whose executive director, Heather Weininger, said when Evers took office that "every unborn child in Wisconsin is in extreme danger."
This story has been updated to clarify how federal Title X funds are administered and to correct the number of Title X patients served by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.