A group of Planned Parenthood affiliates fired back at Texas today, suing the state in federal court in hopes of blocking a new rule set to kick their clinics out of Texas' Women's Health Program at the end of the month.
A months-long standoff between Texas and the feds ended in March when the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services announced they'd stop funding the Medicaid-waiver program, which currently draws $9 in federal money for every $1 the state chips in to give thousands of low-income and uninsured Texas women access to basic health care and family planning services like cancer screenings and birth control.
By the state's own count, the WHP helped Texas avoid some 17,000 Medicaid-paid unplanned pregnancies through family planning, not abortions, saving the state $20 million in 2009 alone.
The feds have insisted Texas' new rule banning “affiliates” of abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood, from the WHP violates longstanding federal law allowing Medicaid patients to choose the health care provider of their choice. Gov. Rick Perry has insisted on fighting the feds and has vowed to scrounge up enough state cash to keep the program running, about $30 million a year, without Planned Parenthood's participation. The state filed
its own suit against the feds last month.
Helene Krasnoff, a senior staff attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the state still stands even if Texas manages to pick up the tab for the whole program. "Even if it goes forward as only a state-funded program, the problem is still that rule," she said. "It doesn't matter who's funding the program.”
Texas' Planned Parenthood family planning branches, including the Family Planning Associates of San Antonio, filed for an injunction Wednesday to stop the enforcement of the new rule so their clinics can still participate in the program past the April 30 deadline, when the state says it will start withdrawing WHP funds. Those Planned Parenthood clinics, none of which provide abortions, serve nearly half of all Texas women currently enrolled in the WHP – the program covered about 180,000 uninsured Texas women in 2010, according to the state's numbers
The rule barring Planned Parenthood and “affiliates” of abortion providers surfaced when the Lege established the program in 2005, though the state didn't follow through on enforcing the rule over worries of its constitutionality. The lawsuit filed Wednesday points to a letter former Health and Human Services commissioner Albert Hawkins sent to state Sen. Robert Deuell in 2009 saying, “implementing the subsection ban on contracting with organizations that are affiliates with abortion providers would likely be held unconstitutional by the courts.”
The Planned Parenthood branches are now arguing that very point in court. In their filing, they say the new rule violates clinics' rights by putting “unconstitutional conditions on their eligibility to continue to participate in WHP.” The lawsuit also claims the state's Health and Human Services Commission, charged with enforcing the new no-Planned-Parenthood rule, has “overstepped its authority in adopting a rule that conflicts with the purpose of the laws that created the program,” namely that the law was created to expand the availability of health care to poor Texas women, not restrict it. In a conference call with reporters today, Pete Schenkkan, an attorney representing the branches, said “the new rule violates the state statute because it defeats the purpose of the Women's Health Program.”
Patricio Gonzales, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County, said four of his branch's eight clinics already shuttered last year when deep cuts to state family planning programs kicked in. “We don't provide abortions, but we do support every woman's right to make her own personal decision about health,” Gonzales said. More of his clinics could close if WHP funding runs out at the end of the month, he said. The largest provider of women's health care in his region, Gonzales said, the association's clinics provide care for about 6,500 low-income women across the Rio Grande Valley.
Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Trust of South Texas, said the trust began developing its own sliding fee scale last year in order to absorb the blow and continue care for WHP clients should funding run out, anticipating the worst. "We've been warning people coming into our clinics the future of this program is uncertain."
While Hons said Wednesday he has confidence the affiliates will score an injunction, he voiced another fear. “This has been so heavily politicized," he said. "What I fear, my worst fear, is that Gov. Perry is going to say something along the lines of, 'Well, I swore there wouldn't be Planned Parenthood clinics in this program, so there just won't be a Women's Health Program at all.'”
In their filing Wednesday, the Planned Parenthood branches lay out the severity of the two-thirds cut in state family planning programs the Lege passed last year. While last year more than 70 agencies received state family planning funds, only 41 were still contracting with the state health department for those funds by February 2012. Among the Planned Parenthood family planning branches, 12 clinics have been forced to close because of cuts to state family planning programs.
"These cuts make the impact of losing WHP funding worse for Plaintiffs and all their patients, not just those in WHP," the lawsuit states.
You can read the full lawsuit here.
-- Michael Barajas, firstname.lastname@example.org