The 84th Legislature and Early Opportunities

This is one in a series of blog posts about our 2015 legislative agenda

Click here to download our policy agenda one-pager for early opportunities.

Building a strong Texas begins by making sure the youngest Texans have the right start to life. Our legislature can accomplish this by making sure all moms have access to health care services across their lifetime, by providing babies with the care they need during those first few critical years of life, and by ensuring families have the financial support they need when they fall on hard times.

For parents, the day their child is born may feel like the most important day of their lives. But when it comes to a child’s health, all the other days are important too – the nine months before delivery, the care moms receive before and between pregnancies, and of course, all the days that follow. A pregnant woman can receive essential, life-saving services for herself and her child through Medicaid, but she may still have an unhealthy pregnancy if she didn’t have insurance prior to conception. This is an unfortunately common occurrence because Texas leaders haven’t accepted new Medicaid funding for low-wage workers who don’t get coverage from their jobs. And she may lose coverage only two months after she’s delivered, even if she needs substantial help with issues like postpartum depression and chronic illnesses.

A new mom may also find it hard to navigate her health care options after she’s delivered, preventing her from receiving interconception care services (i.e. care between pregnancies) proven to improve infant and maternal health outcomes and delay her next pregnancy until her body is ready. Measures like extending the length of postpartum services for pregnant women in Medicaid and CHIP perinatal and streamlining care between different health care programs are smart ways we can ensure that moms don’t experience harmful gaps in services. We’re glad to see that Governor Abbott placed these issues at the top of his health care agenda during the campaign, and we’re hopeful he will fight for strong new policies during the session.

When women are able to plan and space their pregnancies, the health benefits can be huge, ranging from earlier prenatal care to lower risk of low birthweight, prematurity, and neonatal and infant mortality. In 2011, the Texas legislature made substantial cuts to the women’s preventive health care system, leading many health care clinics to close and thousands of women to lose access to services. During the 2013 legislative session, the legislature took important steps to restore funding for women’s preventive health care. However, our publicly funded programs can currently only serve three in ten women needing services, and the ability of women to access services varies widely across the state. The legislature can build on the progress it made in 2013 by providing sufficient funding, ensuring that any consolidation of women’s health programs preserves or expands access rather than narrows it, and improving continuity of care by supporting a wider array of services such as prenatal care.

Our legislature can also take steps to provide babies and toddlers with services in those critical first few years. One important way to improve health outcomes for the youngest Texans is to support breastfeeding, which helps babies fight diseases and infections. Measures like ensuring state agencies are mother-friendly, protecting moms who breastfeed in public, and making child care centers a more supportive environment for breastfeeding moms can all make Texas a stronger state for moms and babies.

For children age birth to three with developmental delays or disabilities, Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) provides individualized, family-focused, cost-effective services during the critical period when their minds are growing the most. Through ECI, children like Kate receive life-changing services that help them communicate, play, and learn. ECI has faced budget cuts in the past, and it is crucial that the legislature recognize that investments in early intervention now lead to healthier, happier children and families and fewer costly interventions later in life.

Ensuring that all kids get a strong start to life requires supporting whole families. When Texas families fall on hard times, our state provides important supports to help them get by. Programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) help struggling families stay afloat and provide children with the opportunities all kids deserve as they grow up. Any movement to limit these supports does harm to kids and families in Texas, making it harder for children to overcome economic barriers and grow into healthy, successful adults.