January 3, 2013 — Visiting Texas District Judge Gary Herger on Monday ruled that the state may move forward with plans to exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program because the organization provides abortions, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/31/12).
Texas last year decided to start enforcing a state law that prohibits organizations affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the program, which had been mostly funded by the federal government. However, the federal government told Texas officials it would end the funding because of the state's move to exclude certain providers (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/9/12).
Texas then announced that it would launch its own WHP without federal money, even as it simultaneously pursued a legal challenge to the government's decision to cut off the funding on Dec. 31. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from excluding the group's clinics from the Texas WHP when it launched on Jan. 1. Herger denied the request and said the state could continue as planned until a hearing on the merits of the Planned Parenthood case is held on Jan. 11 (Aaronson, Texas Tribune, 12/31/12).
In the meantime, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith issued a ruling on Dec. 21 denying Texas' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the cut off of federal funding (MacLaggan, Reuters, 12/21/12).
New Program Launches
Stephanie Goodman, a spokesperson for the state Health and Human Services Commission, said the state-run WHP program is estimated to cost $40 million annually (Merchant, AP/Dallas Morning News, 12/21/12). The program -- which launched this week as planned -- will provide about 110,000 low-income women ages 18 to 44 with no-cost well-woman exams, basic health care and certain family planning services (Philpott, Texas Tribune, 1/3).
Goodman said the Health and Human Services Commission uncovered "pockets of money" in its budget to pay for the program through the end of the fiscal year, after which the Legislature would need to pass a bill to continue funding it. Texas will cover the cost by reducing overtime expenses and improving efforts to recover fraudulent or wasteful Medicaid payments, she said.
The state has signed up more than 1,000 new providers to replace Planned Parenthood, which surveys indicate will sufficiently cover patients in most major metropolitan areas, according to Goodman (AP/Dallas Morning News, 12/21/12).
Lauren Bean, a spokesperson for the Texas attorney general's office, wrote in an email, "We are pleased the court rejected Planned Parenthood's latest attempt to skirt state law." She added that the state "will continue to defend the Texas Legislature's decision to prohibit abortion providers and their affiliates from receiving taxpayer dollars through the Women's Health Program" (AP/Politico, 12/31/12).
Ken Lambrecht -- president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas -- said, "It is shocking that once again Texas officials are letting politics jeopardize health care access for women." He added, "Our doors remain open today and always to Texas women in need. We only wish Texas politicians shared this commitment to Texas women, their health, and their well-being" (AP/ABC News, 12/31/12).