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State Cannot Ban Planned Parenthood and Keep Federal Funds for Women's Health Program

State-funded WHP set to begin Jan. 1
Jordan Smith, 7:00am, Sat. Dec. 22, 2012
Photo by John Anderson

A federal court in Waco Friday denied the state an injunction that would allow it to receive Medicaid dollars to fund the healthcare providers it believes should be a part of the Women's Health Program, and to deny funds to Planned Parenthood if it so chooses.

"Once and for all, we implore Texas to put politics aside and put women’s health first," Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas CEO Ken Lambrecht said in a statement after the court ruling. "The Women’s Health Program and Planned Parenthood have worked together to provide women with essential health services, including cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams, for the past five years," and could continue to do so, he said.

The state filed the lawsuit in federal court in Waco early in the year, seeking to have its way with Medicaid funding despite provisions of federal law that do not allow the state to discriminate among Medicaid-qualified providers. A suit similar to Texas' was denied by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this fall.

At issue is the state's decision to jettison Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which for five years has been supported almost entirely with Medicaid dollars – for every $1 the state kicked into the program, the feds pitched in $9. So it was, until the state decided this year to rework the program rules in order to ban Planned Parenthood's participation. Planned Parenthood is the single largest provider of WHP services, each year serving roughly 50,000 women enrolled in the program.

The state's decision to ax Planned Parenthood and to leave tens of thousands of women without access to their provider of choice did not sit well with the feds, who declined to continue funding the program if the state chose to discriminate among qualified providers. The state has chosen to go it alone – but not without first trying to make a case that it should be allowed to discriminate and to have the money. Today, the federal court in Waco denied the state an injunction that would prohibit the feds from withholding the Medicaid dollars from the WHP.

As such, the old, Medicaid-supported WHP is set to expire on Dec. 31, and each woman currently receiving services at a Planned Parenthood clinic has received a letter from the state telling them as much. Whether there will be enough providers out there to serve the tens of thousands of women orphaned by the state's move remains to be seen. The new state-run and state-funded Texas Women's Health Program is slated to start Jan. 1.

More on the legal wrangling over the WHP can be found here and here and here.

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