U.S. Calls Bluff in Texas Medicaid/Planned Parenthood Standoff

Carrie Feibel, KUHF/Kaiser Health News
National Journal

The federal government told Texas late on Thursday that it would be dropping the state from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.

Until now, federal Medicaid dollars had paid for 90 percent of the costs to help poor Texas women get gynecological exams, cancer screenings, and contraception.

Federal Medicaid Director Cindy Mann said Texas will be dropped because Gov. Rick Perry insisted on rules that excluded Planned Parenthood from the program. “I just want to again underscore how disappointed we are in having to take this action,” Mann said. “We don’t have a choice,” she added. “Medicaid law is clear: Patients — not the state government or officials — are able to choose the doctor and health care providers that are best for them and their families.”

Mann said there will be a three- to six-month phase-out period, so women treated at Planned Parenthood clinics will have time to find a new provider.

Perry has said he wants to continue serving the 130,000 women who use the program, but shift them into a state-funded program under state rules. The program costs nearly $40 million.

Perry, who dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year, reacted angrily to the news on his official Twitter feed. He tweeted: “Obama Admin ends#WHP via media conference call; @GovernorPerry pledges state will keep pgm going” and “This is how Obama Admin works? Notifying press before the state administrators? Purely political. #WHP.”

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius indicated that the administration was headed in this direction during a tour of a Houston hospital.

On the same tour, Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat who represents parts of Houston, said he wanted to continue talking to the Obama administration about ways to keep the federal dollars flowing to Texas women.

Green said last Friday: “If Texas makes a decision, these are federal Medicaid dollars, we could bypass the state and come directly to some entity, like a Harris County Hospital District or Dallas County.” Green couldn’t be reached for comment to say whether he still thinks a county workaround might be a viable option.

But according to The Texas Tribune, when Mann was asked “if local governments could skip the state level and coordinate directly with the federal government to continue to get support, Mann said no. She said money for Medicaid programs flows through the state.”

This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.