Almost two months after Texas Republican leaders announced they would kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, it hasn’t happened.
The organization is still receiving federal and state funds to provide health care for about 13,500 low-income women a year, and the state officials who called for a cutoff, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have fallen silent on why the funding continues.
But the state’s hesitance to pull the trigger reflects a recent pattern in its dealings with an organization that is a lightning rod for any political debate that even remotely touches on abortion. Repeatedly, raising claims of fraud or wrongdoing, conservative Texas politicians have vowed to fine or punish the organization.
And repeatedly, when the smoke cleared there was no fire.
On Oct. 21, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas received a “notice of termination” from the state Health and Human Services Commission announcing it was axing the organization’s Medicaid contract, citing the videos and unspecified allegations of Medicaid fraud.
The agency’s inspector general, the letter said, had “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices” that would disqualify Planned Parenthood from participating in Medicaid.
The commission’s chief fraud investigator, Stuart Bowen, gave Planned Parenthood 30 days to respond and request an “informal resolution meeting” with health commission attorneys. If it didn’t, the state said it would issue a “final notice of termination” formally booting Planned Parenthood from Medicaid — an order that would go into effect 15 days after the organization received it.
Worried they would be cut from the Medicaid program as early as Dec. 8, Planned Parenthood affiliates in November filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block Texas’ efforts. In it, Planned Parenthood argued that terminating its Medicaid contract would prevent low-income women, including 10 unnamed patients that signed on to the case, from obtaining services from a “qualified, willing provider” as required by law.
But when U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks considered the organization’s request for a restraining order on Dec. 8, a curious fact emerged. Despite its claims that it had proof of misconduct, state health officials never delivered the final legal notice to defund the organization.
Lacking a final notice of termination, Sparks canceled the hearing.
“Planned Parenthood has not received official notice from the state for termination of our health centers’ continued participation in Medicaid so our court case is delayed,” said Sarah Wheat, a vice president for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.
The state’s efforts to nix the Medicaid dollars have been “political from the start,” Wheat said.
In a previous interview with the Tribune, Bowen emphasized that the “notice of termination” sent to Planned Parenthood in October was the start of a civil enforcement process — not a final determination of the organization’s status as a Medicaid provider.
“We did not terminate them,” he said. “We began a process … inclusive of the development of evidence.”
Bowen’s explanation appeared at odds with the wording of the notice sent to Planned Parenthood and public statements made by Abbott and other top state officials indicating that Planned Parenthood would indeed be ousted from the program.
It remains unclear why Planned Parenthood has yet to receive the final notice, and the Office of Inspector General has declined to provide any details about its investigation into the organization.
It’s not unclear at all. Sarah Wheat explained it quite succinctly and sufficiently. But Abbott and his ilk got what they wanted, even if they won’t get what they promised. The people they were really speaking to, including a few shamefully gullible “journalists”, heard what they wanted to hear. Truthfulness wasn’t a factor, all they wanted was the rah rah. It’s up to the rest of us to remember that.