Walker Has Slashed Women’s Health Care
600 family planning centers dropped, cancer screening declines for low income women.
Since 2011, Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have made sport out of restricting women’s access to basic health care. After Governor Walker’s 2012 failed attempt to eliminate some coordinators for the Wisconsin Well Woman Program (WWWP), Governor Walker’s administration is now using a behind-the-scenes tactic to reduce access to these life-saving services once again.
The WWWP was created over two decades ago to ensure that women ages 45-64 who lack health insurance can access cancer and other preventative health screenings. The WWWP pays for mammograms, Pap tests, other health screenings, and multiple sclerosis testing for women with high risk signs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 500 invasive breast cancers were detected through the WWWP between July 2009 and July 2014 and over 70,000 women have participated in the program since its inception.
Instead of continuing to invest in this successful program that is saving women’s lives through the early detection and treatment of cancer, the Walker administration reduced the 72 county coordinating offices for the WWWP to 13 multi-jurisdictional agencies (MJA) that are responsible for up to 10 counties each. Certain family planning providers, including Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, were booted out of the program, which contributed to the number of providers dropping from 1,000 to just over 400 in the last year, with only about 80 sites providing mammograms.
The nonpartisan Wisconsin Breast Cancer Coalition recently surveyed WWWP Coordinators about these changes to the program. Nearly all coordinators responded and the results were astonishing. 62% of WWWP Coordinators say lack of providers in their region and obstacles to traveling are barriers to participation for women in their region. 77% of WWWP Coordinators confirm declining enrollment, though nearly half also report seeing women come back to the program because they were kicked off BadgerCare and could not afford private insurance. 76% of WWWP Coordinators indicated they either do not have enough mammographic providers in their region or are “making do” – although it is difficult.
This is not the first attack on access to life-saving cancer screenings and basic preventive health care by Governor Walker and legislative Republicans, which has been a hallmark of their governing. Specifically, they have targeted Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin for elimination, endangering the health and lives of Wisconsin women. They have slashed millions in aid for preventive care, like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings and birth control, which has led to the closure of five rural health centers (Johnson Creek, Beaver Dam, Chippewa Falls, Shawano and Fond du Lac) and most likely, more to come.
Unfortunately, there are real-life consequences for the political games these legislators are playing with women’s lives, which the thousands of women in Wisconsin who are losing access to basic healthcare altogether or are having to drive hours at a time to get their yearly mammogram can attest to. As long as Governor Walker and legislative Republicans are in charge, women will have a target on their backs.
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd District which covers La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and parts of Monroe County. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, represents District 76 in the Wisconsin Assembly.