Planned Parenthood Watching Trump Administration's Response to Texas Request

by | May 16, 2017 AT 12:55 PM

By Julie Chang

Testing their luck with the Trump administration, Texas officials are asking for federal money to help support the state's women's health program even though it has barred Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Texas lost federal funding for its women's health program in 2013 after it kicked out the biggest provider of such care, Planned Parenthood, opting to fund the health program with state money. But facing a tight budget cycle, state officials are hoping President Donald Trump's administration, which has called for defunding Planned Parenthood, will restore federal money through a so-called Section 1115 Medicaid waiver.

"There is a new administration. Waivers take some time, and we're looking at what opportunities may exist for us," said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. "This isn't about changing the provider or client experience or about changing the details of the program."

The commission has asked for funding for the Healthy Texas Women program for five years starting September 2018.

Williams said the agency does not know precisely how much money the state could save if the federal government greenlights money for the women's program. The Texas Senate in its early version of the state budget assumed the state could save $180 million over the next two years with the waiver.

Planned Parenthood supporters fear if the federal government approves matching federal dollars for Healthy Texas Women, other states could kick Planned Parenthood out of their Medicaid programs without consequences.

"If the feds were going to allow this kind of waiver and it survives legal challenges, which is presumably what would happen immediately, then that would possibly open the door for other states to pursue defunding Planned Parenthood in their Medicaid program waiver," said Stacey Pogue with the left-leaning Austin think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities.

In August, critics such as the center blasted Healthy Texas Women officials after they approved a $1.6 million contract with the anti-abortion Heidi Group to provide, among other things, family planning services.

As a part of the waiver application, the health commission must hold meetings to take public input. The next one will be 1 p.m. Monday at 4900 North Lamar Blvd.

The program, which officially launched in its newest form last July, provides pregnancy testing and counseling; family planning; breast and cervical cancer screenings; immunizations and screenings and treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In December, 114,026 women were receiving services through the program. The agency projects a monthly average of 231,480 women receiving services through the program in fiscal 2018 and a monthly average of 232,670 in fiscal 2019.

"We support (the state's women's program) and always have," Pogue said. "It could be a lot better and we could serve a lot more people ... if we let Planned Parenthood participate."

(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas