As a tumultuous year in women's health draws to a close, Planned Parenthood is turning up the heat on Texas, today filing a new lawsuit that challenge the state's move to ban the nonprofit from participation in a state-run and funded Texas Women's Health Program.
While previous lawsuits have focused on the state's move to ban Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid-waiver Women's Health Program, the suit filed this week focuses on the state's efforts to ban the provider from a proposed state-run Texas WHP – meant to replace the successful and federally-funded program that the state has voluntarily sought to end solely to exclude Planned Parenthood from participation.
Today in state court Marcela "Marcy" Balquinta joined Planned Parenthood family-planning providers from across the state to sue Texas in Travis County district court, arguing that she will effectively be left without access to health care if the state goes through with excluding Planned Parenthood from providing women's health care in the revamped TWHP. "Without the affordable care I receive through Planned Parenthood and 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," Balquinta said in a statement. "If I couldn't go to Planned Parenthood, I don't know where I'd turn. And there are tens of thousands of Texas women like me."
Indeed, Balquinta lives in the Valley, one of the areas of the state that will be hardest hit if state officials make good on a promise to ban Planned Parenthood from participation in the new TWHP. Balquinta, a 26-year-old graduate student at University of Texas–Pan American who works part-time teaching students about preventing sexual violence, will continue to try to pay for services at Planned Parenthood, because that is her "trusted provider where she feels comfortable seeking reproductive health services," though "because of her limited means, she believes it would be highly unlikely that she could pay for the same range of services that has been covered by WHP and would be covered by TWHP," reads the lawsuit.
Texas officials have reworked the definition of "affiliate" to exclude Planned Parenthood first from the Medicaid-waiver program and now from the state-run program. According to the state, all Planned Parenthood clinics are affiliated with abortion providers, regardless whether the individual clinics provide abortion care. Pregnant women are not eligible for the WHP and none of the Planned Parenthood clinics that provide WHP services also provide abortion care. Of the 47 clinics providing family planning services in the state, just six clinics provide abortion care, notes Pete Schenkkan, one of the Austin attorneys representing Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit.
As a result of the reworked rules, the federal government told the state it will no longer fund the WHP after Dec. 31. For the last five years the feds have kicked in 90% of the costs of the WHP, saving the state tens of millions in Medicaid expenses. By all accounts, the program has been a success. Nonetheless, the state has decided to go it alone, exclude Planned Parenthood from the program, end the association with Medicaid, and to pay for the entire thing by itself – to the tune of roughly $36 million per year.
Among the issues facing the new TWHP is whether there are enough providers to absorb the roughly 50,000 women who would be orphaned by the state's rejection of their healthcare provider of choice, Planned Parenthood. Although Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek has said he believes the new state-funded system will be a success, with plenty providers to cover all existing enrollees (and during a fall press conference saying nothing about expansion, except that he hopes the state will have fewer poor and uninsured women in the future), there is little proof that this will be the case. Indeed, Planned Parenthood of Hidalgo County has served 6,500 women per year via the WHP and Patricio Gonzales, CEO of PPHC says he is "very concerned" about what his clients will do if stranded without access to their provider of choice. PPHC's clients are "among the poorest in the state, and the country," he said on an afternoon press call, and Planned Parenthood is "by far the largest women's health provider in our service region."
At present, the state continues to take federal money for the Medicaid-waiver WHP, and thus to continue with Planned Paretnhood's participation. Although the state initially said it would be ready to go with the state-run TWHP in October, it has twice pushed back the date, letting the clock run out and the federal money to come in. Officials now say the TWHP won't officially begin until Jan. 1, 2013 – the day after the feds have said they would no longer provide any money.
A hearing on the new suit, which seeks to enjoin the state from banning Planned Parenthood from the TWHP and from making good on a threat that it will can the whole program if the courts find it illegal to ban the nonprofit, will be held before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, a Dec. 17 scheduled trial on the merits of an earlier suit filed by Planned Parenthood that challenges the legality of tossing the provider from the Medicaid-waiver WHP has been "put on ice," as Schenkkan put it, after the state appealed a temporary restraining order halting the state from excluding Planned Parenthood from that program. Find more on that suit here.
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