HHS Confirms Cutoff of Financing for Texas' Medicaid Women's Health Program

March 12, 2012 — HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday confirmed that the federal government will end funding to Texas' Medicaid Women's Health Program because of a state law that bars participation by Planned Parenthood and other "affiliates of abortion providers," The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 3/9).

Catherine Frazier, a spokesperson for Gov. Rick Perry (R), said the governor had expected the decision. Sebelius' announcement came one day after Perry said the state would use its own money to continue the program, which provides family planning and basic health screenings for 130,000 low-income women (Kever, Houston Chronicle, 3/9).

The federal government, which covers 90% of the program's cost, previously informed Texas officials that it would suspend financing for the program as of March 14 if they moved forward with plans to exclude abortion providers (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/9). Despite the warning, state officials said they would begin enforcing the law on that date.

Sebelius said HHS remains "eager to work with Texas to find a solution," adding, "But if Texas chooses to go down a road that violates the law, we really have no choice." She continued, "They knew ... they are not allowed to deny women the right to choose [providers]. Women would be losing their doctor, their medical home, their choice" (Plushnick-Masti, AP/Miami Herald, 3/9).

The federal funding will be phased out between May and September ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 3/9). Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D) said she and other lawmakers are in discussions with the Obama administration about possible ways to continue funding the program (AP/Miami Herald, 3/9).

Response From Gov. Perry

Frazier said, "We are still very disappointed this (Obama) administration is choosing to side with abortion providers, ... instead of 130,000 Texas women" (Houston Chronicle, 3/9). Perry in a statement said the fact that Sebelius made the announcement "during a press event before giving official notice to the state is a clear demonstration of the political motivation behind this decision" (AP/Miami Herald, 3/9).

Although public money does not pay for abortion care, opponents of Planned Parenthood maintain that family planning funding for the organization indirectly supports abortion services by boosting the organization's overall budget (Reuters/New York Times, 3/9).

Sebelius said the notion that the program is connected to abortion is false. "It is illegal to spend any federal money on abortion," she noted, adding, "This has nothing to do with abortion" (Houston Chronicle, 3/9).

Stephanie Goodman, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, said funding for the program will be diverted from unspecified areas of the budget. If the budget is unable to cover the costs, the state will increase its deficit to fund the services because state officials believe cutting off contraceptive services for low-income women would increase the birth rate and raise the state's maternity care costs by $57 million, she said (AP/Miami Herald, 3/9).

Effects on Clinics, Women's Health Services

In addition to the Medicaid law, state lawmakers last year cut the women's health program by more than $73 million, ending services for 160,000 women. They also cut an additional $10 million from another family planning funding source and moved the responsibility for those services to managed care organizations. In the wake of the cuts, more than a dozen clinics that serve low-income women have closed, raising the number of patients seeking care at hospital-run clinics, according to AP/Washington Post.

Planned Parenthood in a statement said that if Perry found state funds for women's health, he should "immediately restore the $73 million for breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV tests, birth control and health screenings that was eliminated" (Tomlinson, AP/Washington Post, 3/11).