In two new lawsuits filed yesterday in Texas, Planned Parenthood and one of its patients challenge the state’s authority to exclude the health care provider from the Texas Women’s Health Program, the state-funded replacement for the Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP). The program is slated to expire on December 31st, 2012 when its federal funding runs out. The Center for Medicaid Services has refused to continue its 90 percent match to the WHP in Texas since, earlier this year, the state excluded Planned Parenthood from providing care via the WHP because of its status as an “abortion affiliate” in the eyes of the state.
The first lawsuit has been filed by an individual Planned Parenthood client from the Rio Grande Valley, arguably the hardest hit area in Texas when it comes to access to care and where losing Planned Parenthood as a WHP provider would have devastating consequences for women there. Planned Parenthood has historically seen about half of the WHP’s hundred-thousand-plus enrollees at its clinics, while individual doctors see only a handful of patients apiece. Marcela “Marcy” Balquinta is joined as a plaintiff by a number of Planned Parenthood providers in Texas.
Balquinta is a graduate of UT-Pan American and lives paycheck-to-paycheck in McAllen, Texas, working part time as an educator on sexual violence issues. In a statement accompanying the details of her suit petitioning the state of Texas to let Planned Parenthood remain in the state-funded WHP, she said that, without Planned Parenthood and the WHP, “I would have to make tough decisions between paying for my cancer screenings and birth control, or buying groceries or gas for my car.”
From the suit:
“Plaintiff Balquinta does not want to sever her four-year relationship with Planned Parenthood and be forced to establish a new doctor-patient relationship with someone who does not know her past medical history and does not have her medical records. Plainitff Balquinta trusts the staff at Planned Parenthood and feels that it is a familiar place where she is welcome.”
Why does the state want to force Balquinta to go elsewhere for medical care when she’s been perfectly happy with Planned Parenthood? Because it’s decided to enforce a years-old law that bars “abortion affiliates” and entities that “promote” abortion from participating either in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program or the new Texas Women’s Health Program, the latter of which was supposedly ready to launch November 1st but has been postponed while the state continues to take as much federal matching money as possible.
Abortion is a red herring issue for the WHP; no pregnant woman can be enrolled in or seek services via either the Texas Women’s Health Program or the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, and no Planned Parenthood clinic that has historically participated in the WHP provides abortions. Barring Planned Parenthood because of its “affiliation” with abortion providers is a purely political move and has two main effects: it allows conservative politicians to appear uber “pro-life” and, by university researchers’ estimates, will prevent or hinder tens of thousands of women who desire not to be pregnant from getting the reproductive health care they need. The upshot? An increase in unwanted pregnancies and especially Medicaid-funded births, at taxpayers’ expense.
In a second lawsuit filed in federal court as a kind of placeholder for future litigation while Banquita’s state suit proceeds, Planned Parenthood claims that the the Department of Health And Human Services and its fact-challenged executive director Dr. Kyle Janek have no statutory authority to exclude Planned Parenthood from the TWHP or to enforce the “poison pill” severability clause that shuts the program down should a court compel the inclusion of Planned Parenthood.
In a conference call yesterday, Pete Schenkkan, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, said he anticipates a hearing on the state suit by the end of the year since the TWHP is scheduled to begin January 1st. Whether Texas will, at that point, have enough new providers to meet patient demand without Planned Parenthood, remains to be seen.