Days after Texas health officials announced they want to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state Medicaid program, state investigators on Thursday visited Planned Parenthood facilities in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.
Investigators with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s investigative arm delivered requests to Planned Parenthood facilities in all three cities asking for Medicaid records, billing information and personnel information, according to Planned Parenthood officials. A request delivered to a Dallas facility included request for files from clinics in Austin and Waco.
State health officials would not confirm details about investigators’ visits. A spokesman for the health commission’s Office of Inspector General said he could not “provide comment on any oversight or investigative activities.”
Planned Parenthood officials said in a statement that Thursday’s visits by state investigators were “political grandstanding” by the state’s Republican leadership, particularly Gov. Greg Abbott, who had previously called for cutting off all taxpayer dollars the organization received.
“Representatives from the Texas Office of Inspector General showed up at Planned Parenthood health centers in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio looking for an excuse to take health care away from thousands of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventive care,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of the organization’s state political arm Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “But what they will see is professional, compassionate and quality health care. Despite their efforts to distort the truth, health care — no matter what — is what happens at Planned Parenthood.”
In a statement earlier this week praising the move to cut off the funding for Planned Parenthood, Abbott said, “Texas has stepped forward and shown its unyielding commitment to both protecting life and providing women’s health services.”
Among the documents investigators are requesting are Medicaid records dating back to 2010. At Planned Parenthood’s facility in Spring, Texas, which does not perform abortions, state investigators are requesting records related to specific services provided to Medicaid patients, employee information and appointment books, according to a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune.
4. Based on what we know, the state’s case seems a little thin.
This one comes with a major caveat: We don’t know exactly what evidence the state possesses. The letters reference “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices by Planned Parenthood affiliates across the State.” And that may well be. If state officials have uncovered evidence of widespread Medicaid fraud at Planned Parenthood clinics, then Texas may well succeed in cutting the organizations out of the program—and deservedly so.
But the specifics offered by the state so far don’t exactly blow you away. In their letters to Planned Parenthood, Texas officials contend that the organization is “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner.”
The allegations center on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC), based in Houston, just one of the major Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state. (There are no specific allegations in the letters against other groups, such as Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which serves D-FW, Austin and Waco, or Planned Parenthood South Texas. They’re apparently guilty by association.)
The state contends that PPGC has engaged in Medicaid fraud. These allegations largely stem from a 2009 whistleblower suit by a former clinic worker who accused PPGC of fraudulent billing. PPGC settled the case in 2013, though admitted no wrongdoing. The Texas Attorney General’s office—headed at the time by one Greg Abbott—announced that the case was closed.
So the state’s argument—at least as laid out in the letters of termination—is based on six-year-old allegations against one Planned Parenthood affiliate—a case the Texas AG’s office closed more than two years ago. That seems kind of thin.
Is that enough to convince federal health officials or a federal court that a major provider of health services to thousands of Texas women should be booted from Medicaid? State officials seemingly will have a tough time winning that argument— unless they’ve obtained some new, damning evidence of widespread fraud by Planned Parenthood. In other words, the fate of Planned Parenthood in Medicaid will be decided on the merits, not the politics.
So the question is, are they looking for corroboration of evidence they already have or reliably believe they will find, or is this an example of “we know there are weapons of mass destruction in there somewhere and we’ll find them if we just look hard enough”? I have a hard time believing it’s not the latter, but we’ll find out soon enough when the state is forced to put up or shut up. The Statesman, the Observer, Juanita, the Current, Wonkblog, and Trail Blazers have more.