Planned Parenthood Patients Take Texas Back to Court

Patients say they'll 'lose their provider of choice,' a violation of federal law, if Texas boots Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood
Kelsey Jukam
Planned Parenthood and 10 “Jane Doe” patients have taken Texas back to court over Medicaid dollars, rehashing issues they last faced in a 2012 fight over the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

Ten anonymous Planned Parenthood patients, along with three Planned Parenthood affiliates, have filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Texas over the state’s attempt to boot the provider out of the joint federal-state Medicaid program.

In court documents, Planned Parenthood argues that Texas’ actions violate the federal Social Security Act, which allows Medicaid patients to choose their own health care provider. According to plaintiffs, Texas’ efforts to block Planned Parenthood from receiving public funds “will cause significant and irreparable harm” to Medicaid patients who “will lose their provider of choice, will find their family planning services interrupted, and in many cases will be left with reduced access to care.”

The lawsuit comes after the Texas health commission’s Office of Inspector General sent a series of letters to Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates informing the provider of their ouster from Medicaid in October.

In the letters, inspector general Stuart Bowen wrote that the state had determined the organization could not provide medical care in a “professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” pointing to secretly recorded, deceptively edited videos filmed by the California anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress as evidence of “numerous acts of misconduct.” He also alluded to allegations of Medicaid fraud. Criminal and civil investigations into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices, launched after the videos’ release in July are still ongoing.

The 10 “Jane Doe” plaintiffs joining the lawsuit are some of the more than 13,000 poor Texas Medicaid patients who get contraception, cancer screenings, and STI and HIV testing at Texas Planned Parenthood health centers every year. The organization receives about $3 million in Medicaid funding annually.

Without intervention from a federal judge, Planned Parenthood could be kicked out of Medicaid as soon as December 8.

Other states have made similar efforts to remove the provider from Medicaid, but they have so far failed: most recently, federal judges in Louisiana and Alabama have required states to allow Planned Parenthood to participate in Medicaid while lawsuits play out.

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups have long claimed that other providers would be able to fill the void left by any Planned Parenthood ouster. Not so, said Dr. Hal Lawrence,  CEO at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, during a press call announcing the lawsuit.

In fact, he said, it’d be “next to impossible” for non-Planned Parenthood providers to provide the same volume and quality of care. “It’s very difficult in many states to get Medicaid patients in to see other providers, schedules are already full,” Lawrence told reporters.

Planned Parenthood officials, who were given 30 days to respond to the Texas health commission’s Medicaid termination, said Monday that they are bypassing the commission’s appeals process in favor of filing their lawsuit. But attorneys did say that Planned Parenthood is complying with the inspector general’s requests for thousands of pages of billing and patient documents and subpoenas issued days after the termination letters.

“The decision to try to eliminate Planned Parenthood from Texas Medicaid was a political determination that violates federal law, that’s why we’re bringing claims in federal court,” said Jennifer Sandman, deputy director of litigation and law with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the national umbrella organization for Planned Parenthood.

In late October, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission received a warning from federal health officials that its actions to boot Planned Parenthood from Medicaid may be illegal.

Texas has spent the last several years attempting, sometimes successfully, to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving taxpayer funding for cancer screenings, contraceptives and other reproductive services. Earlier this year, the Legislature eliminated Planned Parenthood from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, leaving some parts of the state without a provider.

Though it is illegal for public dollars to be used toward abortion, anti-abortion state lawmakers consider any Planned Parenthood location, even those which don’t provide abortion services, to be abortion “affiliates” that must be denied public funds. In 2012, Planned Parenthood filed suit against Texas after lawmakers voted to kick the provider out of the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, ultimately costing the state a $9-to-$1 federal match over the same issue central to the lawsuit announced Monday — whether Texas’ Planned Parenthood ban violates the federal Social Security Act.

“These political attacks have real consequences for people in the communities where they live,” said Jeffrey Hons, president of Planned Parenthood South Texas, on Monday’s press call. “We will continue to fight for our patients, and we will ensure that our doors will stay open.”

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 2:50 pm CST