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April 12th, 2012:

Planned Parenthood sues Texas

Two can play at that game.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block a rule aimed at excluding their health centers from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Austin, asks the court to file a preliminary injunction to block a rule aimed at excluding Planned Parenthood from participating in the program.

Texas legislators approved a rule in 2005, denying participation in the program to any clinic affiliated with an abortion provider.

They delayed enforcement due to concerns that the law violates federal regulations requiring Medicaid programs to be open to any qualified provider but began enforcing it last month, although funding to Planned Parenthood has been continued through April.

The lawsuit argues that the rule places an unconstitutional condition on Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to participate in the Women’s Health Program by seeking to restrict how funds not provided by the program are used.

Here’s the press release that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc., one of the six affiliate plaintiffs, sent out about the suit:

Right there with them

In the lawsuit filed today, the Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates argue that the rule, which was purposefully designed to make them ineligible to continue to participate in the Women’s Health Program, violates their constitutional rights because it imposes an unconstitutional condition on their participation in the program and thereby harms the tens of thousands of low-income women who rely on them for basic, preventive health care. The lawsuit also claims that the rule violates Texas state law because the Health and Human Services Commission overstepped its authority in adopting a rule that conflicts with the purpose of the laws that created the program.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas are being represented by attorneys from the Texas firm Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, and are joined by Planned Parenthood Federation of America attorneys in the suit.

In Texas, the Women’s Health Program is fundamental to improving the health of Texan women, serving as a vital source of health care coverage for women of all ages. Currently more than one-quarter of Texan women are uninsured, and women in Texas have the third-highest rate of cervical cancer in the U.S.

“Planned Parenthood is very important to me and my family. When my mom was my age and pregnant, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Planned Parenthood. They helped her with additional testing and a referral to where she could get treated,” said Rene Resendez, a 24-year-old uninsured student from West Texas who has relied on Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health Program since 2007. “Without the Women’s Health Program and Planned Parenthood, I don’t know what I would do, or where I would go for the cancer screenings I know I need. Planned Parenthood has been a place my family can trust and I should be able to decide who provides my healthcare.”

Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas have been critical to the success of the Women’s Health Program. Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of care within the Women’s Health Program and consistently delivers high-quality care to low-income women. In fact, over 40 percent of the women who receive services through WHP chose to rely on a Planned Parenthood health center.

“Planned Parenthood belongs in the Women’s Health Program and is standing up for tens of thousands of their patients today,” said Randall Ellis, senior director of Government Relations at Legacy Community Health Services, a federally qualified health center in Houston. “It takes the entire spectrum of providers, including Planned Parenthood, to meet the needs of the growing population of low-income Texans without access to reproductive and other basic health care services.”

If the new rule is enforced, Planned Parenthood would be barred from participating in WHP after April 30, leaving tens of thousands of Texan women unable to obtain preventive health care services from the health care provider of their choice.

“This rule impermissibly penalizes Planned Parenthood, and has the effect of restricting Texans’ access to health care,” said Pete Schenkkan, attorney with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody. “We are asking the court to ensure Planned Parenthood can continue to provide Women’s Health Program services to these women.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. One of the background facts they mention in the press release is that the federal government made it clear to all 50 states that a rule excluding a comprehensive women’s health care provider like Planned Parenthood restricts the rights of patients and would not be allowed in the Medicaid program. I seem to recall that one of the arguments that folks like Rick Perry make against Obamacare is that it’s “government intrusion” into your health care decisions. The fact that what the state has done here is exactly that seems to have escaped his notice. I should add that as State Rep. Garnet Coleman pointed out in his interview with me, there are private physicians in Texas who perform abortions, and they and their patients are as affected by this legislation as Planned Parenthood is. If you are a WHP patient seeing one of these doctors for any reason, you’d have to find a new doctor or lose your coverage. Planned Parenthood was clearly the target of the fanatics in the Legislature as well as Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, but they weren’t the only casualty. I hope this lawsuit can rectify that, though if it gets appealed to the Fifth Circuit all bets are off. Juanita, Trail Blazers, Postcards, BOR, Stace, and the Trib have more, while State Sen. Jose Rodriguez has a statement lauding Planned Parenthood for their action.

One million uninsured kids

One point two million uninsured kids in Texas, actually. But who’s counting?

More than 1 million Texas children remain without health insurance, and those kids are not getting the care they need.

The startling condition of the state’s children came into vivid focus last week with the release of the annual Kids Count survey. The analysis of official state and federal data by the non-partisan Center for Public Policy Priorities found that 1.2 million Texas children have neither private nor public health insurance.

Almost 40 percent of Texas mothers received little or no prenatal care and one in seven babies were born premature, statistics show. The difference between being insured and uninsured is stark: 90 percent of insured kids are healthy, while only 58 percent of kids without insurance are considered healthy.

It comes as no surprise that the percentage of children covered by health care is directly related to the employment rate and the parent’s economic status.

With 25 percent of Texas children living in poverty, a rate that consistently runs 5 percent above the national average, Texas ranks 41st in the nation in number of uninsured kids, even though the unemployment rate is lower than the national average.

When uninsured kids get sick, their parents have no place to take them other than a public hospital’s emergency room, which by law cannot turn them away. And if those parents cannot pay the extremely expensive bill? The taxpayer picks up the tab.

“A large percentage of those kids will end up in the emergency room as their primary source of care, which is hugely inefficient and ridiculously expensive,” said Dr. Skip Brown, a medical professor and director of a pediatrics center at the University of Texas Medical Branch

“When you go to the emergency department, those guys are not there to be primary care providers.”

You can see the Kids Count data here. The story notes that many uninsured kids would be eligible for CHIP or Medicaid if they applied for it, but one reason why Texas has so many uninsured kids is precisely because the state does a lot to make it hard for them to apply, including things like requiring in person interviews and a six-month enrollment period instead of a 12-month period like those of us with employer-based insurance have. It’s a deliberate strategy, because insuring those kids would add to the state’s budget, whereas emergency room visits are paid for by counties. If the state’s Republican leadership applied even one tenth of the ferocity they have in fighting Obamacare to doing something about this massive problem at home, there would have eradicated it by now. But after ten years of Republican rule, they have done nothing to improve matters. Insuring kids and providing them with preventative health care is cheap. Paying for the problems of adults who didn’t get health care as kids, that’s expensive. Too bad Rick Perry and his cronies don’t see it that way.

Campaign for Primary Accountability aims at Republicans


A Houston-based super PAC aiming to unseat long-time congressional incumbents added Reps. Joe Barton of Arlington and Ralph Hall of Rockwall to its hit list [last week].

The two Republicans join Democrats Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Silvestre Reyes of El Paso as targets of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which promises to spend money attacking incumbents and boosting challengers in primary races across the country.

“Our polling shows that people are ready for change, they’re not satisfied” with Barton and Hall, said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for the organization.

Ellis said the campaign only targets incumbents who have dissatisfied voters – as determined by their own polling – and a credible primary threat.

Barton, a 14-term incumbent, drew three challengers for the May 29 primary: former Addison Mayor Joe Chow, former Israeli soldier Itamar Gelbman and accountant Frank Kuchar. Hall, seeking his 16th term, is up against former NASCAR driver Lou Gigliotti and former AT&T executive Steve Clark.

Ellis declined to say whether the organization has decided to back any of those challengers in particular or to just spend money attacking the incumbents.

That would be these guys. On the one hand, I have no sympathy for Smokey Joe Barton or the dinosaur Hall. On the other hand, I have no particular reason to believe that anyone who might be able to beat them in a primary would be any less offensive. Sadly, neither of these districts is remotely competitive, so there’s no partisan advantage to be gained by CPA offing one or both of them. I’ll just note that Barton is a big moneybags, so if they want to take him down they’re going to have to dig deep to do so. Hall, on the other hand, is not swimming in campaign cash, but as the Trib notes, he’s survived many challenges before now. It’s likely to take more than just money to unseat him. Which makes me wonder about those polls they claim to have, but whatever. CPA is also now considering expanding their target list even more in Texas, apparently to possibly include every primary-challenged incumbent in the state. One presumes they’ll be ramping up their fundraising even more. Campaign season has been pretty quiet up till now, but it’s about to get a lot less so.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 9

The Texas Progressive Alliance’s heart will go on as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.