The Texas Attorney General’s office announced Wednesday morning that it has obtained a $1.4 million settlement for Medicaid fraud against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. The settlement comes just days after that arm of the health-care provider announced it would shutter three rural family planning clinics and one abortion-providing clinic in the state, it says, due to family planning budget cuts and the new law’s onerous abortion provider regulations.
All the clinics, set to shutter at the end of August, are located in Southeast Texas near the Gulf Coast. Two clinics, in Lufkin and Huntsville, were the only existing family planning clinics in their respective counties.
“In recent years, Texas politicians have created an increasingly hostile environment for providers of reproductive health care in underserved communities,” said Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast President and CEO Melaney Linton in a statement.
The Texas Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Bryan provided medical and surgical abortions, and the former director of that center is anti-choice activist Abby Johnson, a professional crusader against her former employer. On her blog, Johnson greeted the clinic closure with two exclamation points: “MY FORMER CLINIC IS CLOSING!!” she wrote, as part of a statement calling the closure “the biggest personal victory of [her] life.” She added, “This is what grace truly looks like.”
An unnamed whistleblower brought the case of Medicaid fraud to the attention of the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott, and according to a press release, that whistleblower will receive a cut of the settlement. Abbott, who kicked off his gubernatorial campaign two weeks ago, said earlier this year that he believes anti-abortion legislation should contain no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant person, and, in court documents, the far-right Republican has compared Planned Parenthood to terrorist organizations.
When the Lufkin, Huntsville, and Bryan clinics close this August, nearly 7,000 Texans will lose access to the low-cost cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease tests and treatments, contraceptives, and reproductive health exams provided by Planned Parenthood in the area. Some of those displaced clients may be able to find appointments through local primary care providers and at already overloaded federally qualified health centers. But Rochelle Tafolla, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, is not optimistic.
“These clinics actually got started because the state came to us and said, ‘These areas are underserved, would you partner with us?’” said Tafolla. Now, those clinics are closing and the 6,700 Texans that the three clinics saw in the last fiscal year will be left driving to neighboring counties for reproductive health care.
Tafolla says Planned Parenthood hopes that new health-care providers will move into their soon-to-be-empty spaces in Bryan and Lufkin and pick up where her organization was forced to leave off.
“We’re hoping an existing health-care provider will step into our physical space so that these women can be seen,” she said.
Tafolla said Planned Parenthood helped to address the great need of affordable health care for low-income Texans along the Gulf Coast, with the majority of enrollees in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP)—which covered contraceptives and well-woman exams—in each of the three clinics’ counties receiving care through Planned Parenthood: 95 percent of women enrolled in the WHP in Angelina County received services at Lufkin, 96 percent of enrollees in Walker County received services at Huntsville, and two-thirds of enrollees in Brazos County went to the Bryan clinic for care.
But Texas kicked Planned Parenthood out of the WHP in January of this year when the state began enforcing a law that considers all Planned Parenthood locations, even those that do not provide abortion services, to be abortion “affiliates” and thereby ineligible for participation in the WHP. Pregnant people themselves are not even eligible for enrollment in the WHP, making abortion as a procedure wholly irrelevant in terms of services provided under WHP funding.
“You have all these women, and their needs are not going away,” said Tafolla. “We’re hoping that some of the local providers in existence there will step up.”