That sound you hear is another can of worms being opened.
State Sen. Bob Deuell wants Planned Parenthood’s clinics out of the state’s Women’s Health Program, which provides family planning services — but not abortions — to impoverished Medicaid patients. And he says a 2005 law should exclude them already.
But for years, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission has allowed those clinics to continue participating, disregarding the legislative mandate for fear that barring them might be unconstitutional. Deuell has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to clear up the matter, hoping it will free up the agency to push Planned Parenthood out.
“My primary motivation is for the money to go to the 400-plus comprehensive care clinics in the state that provide more than just birth control and STD testing,” said Deuell, R-Greenville. “People say, ‘You just don’t like Planned Parenthood.’ That’s right, but it doesn’t take credibility away from what I’m trying to do.”
While some Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas do perform abortions, those that provide family planning services under Texas’ Women’s Health Program do not — they screen Medicaid patients for breast and cervical cancer, STDs, and prescribe birth control, among other services. Since 2007, 40 Planned Parenthood clinics have received a combined $17.6 million through the Women’s Health Program, according to HHSC records.
A decision isn’t imminent. It could take Abbott months to hand down an opinion, and if he says the provision is constitutional, HHSC officials will likely enter a lengthy rule-making process. But state health officials have a lot riding on the outcome. If they adopt and follow the rule lawmakers intended — and it doesn’t align with federal Medicaid policy — they could risk losing big bucks: $18 million of the $20 million the state spent on the Women’s Health Program in 2009 came from the federal government, according a brief HHSC sent to the attorney general.
Planned Parenthood advocates say the clinics provide stellar reproductive health care and that they’re often the only family planning outfits available in Texas communities. And by all accounts, the program — launched in 2007 as a five-year pilot for impoverished women aged 18 and 44 — is effective. With just a fraction of eligible women currently enrolled, the program prevented 10,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2008 (through contraception and other family planning methods, not abortion), and it saved the state roughly $40 million a year, according to a recent HHSC study.
“There are so many real pressing problems facing this state,” said Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, an advocate for reproductive health clinics. “Why, when this has been working, and no state money has been going to any abortion services, are we spending the state’s time and resources researching this?”
That’s a good question. One might also ask who will step in and provide these services if Planned Parenthood is pushed out? Is Sen. Deuell going to provide replacement funds in the event his little crusade succeeds? Or is the cessation of this service an acceptable outcome for him as long as Planned Parenthood gets the screw? This is so typical of most Republican legislative priorities: It doesn’t solve any problems, but it sure has the potential to create them.