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Health & Science

Texas Moves To Remove Planned Parenthood From Medicaid Program

The decision is related to a series of undercover sting videos released by an anti-abortion group.

Texas officials are acting to remove Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program. That means low-income women on Medicaid won't be able to go there for medical services unrelated to abortion, such as cervical cancer screenings or testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

The decision is related to a series of undercover sting videos released recently by an anti-abortion group, The Center for Medical Progress. One of the videos released this summer was filmed inside the Planned Parenthood flagship clinic in Houston.

The Inspector General for Texas Health & Human Services, Stuart Bowen, Jr., cited the videos in the Medicaid decision.

In a letter to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas, Bowen wrote that the affiliates "are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner."

More specifically, the videos show Planned Parenthood violating the Medicaid program and "accepted medical standards" in its handling of fetal tissue, Bowen wrote.

"This is a highly unusual case, that they cite an Internet video as evidence of these violations," said Allison Winnike, an expert on public health law at the University of Houston's Health Law and Policy Institute.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat, said the highly-edited videos are biased and therefore worthless as evidence.

"It's pretty outrageous," she said.

Garcia also noted that Attorney General Ken Paxton has not finished his own investigation of Planned Parenthood, nor has the local Harris County district attorney.

"Now all of a sudden there's all this evidence and conclusion," Garcia said. "I mean, where is this coming from? Or is it really as made up as the undercover videotapes?"

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston served 7,000 women on Medicaid last year.

"We will absolutely fight back," said Rochelle Tafolla, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. "These are just bogus attacks. It's just more politicians and political games aimed at blocking access at Planned Parenthood."

The loss of Medicaid money could hurt Latina women disproportionately, says Ana DeFrates, a Texas activist with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

"We know that Latina women are more likely to not have (private) insurance," she said. "We know that Latina women in Texas are experiencing and dying from completely preventable diseases such as cervical cancer."

Death rates from cervical cancer are 22 percent higher for Texas women compared to all U.S. women, and for Latinas in Texas, the death rate is 44 percent higher compared to Latinas nationally.

The Texas announcement came Monday morning, just as a judge in Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order against Louisiana officials to prevent them from removing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

Medicaid is jointly paid for with state and federal money, but administered by each state. Neither Governor Greg Abbott, nor state health officials, responded to interview requests.

"We follow every law and regulation," Tafolla said. "In fact, we're one of the most regulated and audited healthcare providers," she added.

Tafolla pointed out that Indiana and Arizona have already tried to stop Medicaid funding from going to Planned Parenthood. Both states were stopped by federal courts.

But the release of the undercover videos has sparked a new call to defund Planned Parenthood. Alabama and Arkansas have also recently tried to expel the group from Medicaid, and are being challenged in court.

"It's clear that the motivation here is political," Tafolla said. "It's really shameful that the state of Texas is now willing to use those bogus videos as an excuse for cutting off women's access to their trusted provider."

Planned Parenthood has 30 days to dispute the decision with Texas officials or may also go directly to court.


The letter sent to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast from the Office of Inspector General, Texas Health and Human Services Commission

The temporary restraining order in the Louisiana case