In Test, Texas Seeks Federal Medicaid Dollars For Program That Bars Planned Parenthood

Jun 12, 2017

Texas is closer to testing out a Trump administration rule that allows states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

The state closes a public comment period Monday for an application seeking federal Medicaid dollars for a women’s health program created specifically to exclude groups like the nonprofit.

“The governor has tried to exclude Planned Parenthood patients from being served through that program and has not been allowed to do so by federal law," said Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. "And that’s been upheld in federal court.”

Wheat said the state might have found a way around those federal laws, though, thanks to President Trump.

Trump's attitude toward Planned Parenthood has been complicated, but during his campaign he announced he intended to defund it.

“Millions and millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood,” he said during one of the Republican presidential debates. “So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women coming through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly … but I would defund it because I am pro-life.”

In April, he signed a law rolling back a rule created by the Obama administration that prohibited state and local governments from blocking federal money for health providers that offer family-planning services and health screenings. The rule applied to providers that also perform abortions.

When the rule was eliminated, Texas jumped.

The state is asking the federal government for money through a 1115 Medicaid waiver, which allows states more flexibility in how they use that money. In this case, Texas wants to use Medicaid money to pay for a women’s health program called Healthy Texas Women.

According to Wheat, the program was created to exclude Planned Parenthood.

“The intent behind [a flexible Medicaid program] is to make sure more women get served and that public health goals are met. It shouldn’t be so that political goals can be accommodated," she said, "and the political goals in this place are to try to provide health care in Texas while preventing women from going to Planned Parenthood health centers for that care.”

Wheat argued the state’s program hasn’t been serving as many women – or had as many providers — as it did before it kicked out Planned Parenthood. She said more than 40 percent of women in the previous incarnation of the health program were going to Planned Parenthood.

Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of the political arm of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said if the federal government approves Texas’ application, it could open the door for other states to create similar programs.

“It really opens a huge can of worms that could be very destructive,” she said.

State officials have long argued that taxpayer money should not be going to organizations that provide abortions — regardless of whether their routine health services are separate from their abortion services.

Now that the public comment period has ended, state health officials will add all the comments and responses to them to the final waiver application. That application will be sent federal health officials for approval, specifically to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

During the approval process, CMS will open its own public comment period.