Texas Cuts Planned Parenthood from Medicaid Coverage

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GLYNNIS JONES / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
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It's official: Planned Parenthood will no longer be covered by Medicaid in Texas. That's the message from state health officials, who on Tuesday afternoon issued their final legal notice to defund the women's health organization, according to the Texas Tribune — a move that can only be delayed if Planned Parenthood appeals the state's decision within the next 15 days. If state health officials are successful, the move could promptly cut off some 13,500 low-income women in Texas from basic healthcare services they currently receive from Planned Parenthood, like birth control and cancer screenings.

It's unclear why it took state health officials more than a year to make good on their threat to defund the organization, which was first made last October following the release of heavily-edited, undercover videos shot by anti-abortion activists who have accused Planned Parenthood of hawking fetal tissue for profit. While those secretly-recorded videos with abortion providers triggered numerous investigations across the country, none have implicated Planned Parenthood in any illegal activity. In Texas, a criminal investigation into the allegations not only cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing but ultimately led to felony grand jury indictments against the two anti-abortion activists who lied their way into a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic using fake IDs in order to film inside. (Harris County's Republican district attorney then promptly dropped charges against the activists before a hearing was even held to consider the merits of the case.)

Nevertheless, those videos alone are apparently enough for Texas health officials to kick Planned Parenthood out of the joint state-federal Medicaid program for good. In the notice sent this week, Texas Health and Human Services Inspector General Stuart Bowen calls the undercover videos evidence that Planned Parenthood "violated state and federal law," has a history of "deviating from accepted standards" in procuring fetal tissue for medical research (a practice the organization says none of its Texas health centers even do anymore) and has demonstrated a "willingness to charge more than the costs incurred for procuring fetal tissue." In his initial notice to defund Planned Parenthood last year, Bowen cited vague "reliable information of illegal billing practices" at PP's Texas clinics, an allegation that is conspicuously absent from the state's final notice to axe the organization's Medicaid funding this week.

If it feels like we've been down this road before, it's because we have. Four years ago, Texas kicked Planned Parenthood’s family planning clinics (which do not provide abortion) out of the state's a widely-successful Medicaid waiver program for providing basic health services for the state's poor and uninsured women. Why? Because Texas conservatives decided even so-called "affiliates" of abortion providers couldn't serve women under the program. Texas balked when the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services insisted that longstanding federal law prohibits states from arbitrarily kicking a medical provider out of the Medicaid program. In the end, Texas lost nearly $40 million in annual federal funding for women's health care. Now Texas health officials give an anti-abortion activist $1.6 million to help "facilitate" health care for poor women.

The feds have already told Texas that completely blocking Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood is illegal and, according to the Tribune, Planned Parenthood isn't even bothering to appeal the state's decision to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Instead, the organization says it will revive a lawsuit it had initially filed last year seeking to block the state from kicking it out of Medicaid when that decision seemed imminent.

For anyone counting, this makes two Texas-based abortion-related legal fights in just two weeks.

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