Texas Medicaid Lawsuit Reaches Federal Appeals Court

Published May 29, 2012

The next step in the conflict between President Obama’s administration and the state of Texas will take place in a U.S. appeals court, which will to determine the fate of a Texas Medicaid health program for women which could have wide-ranging ramifications for other states.

Texas v. Planned Parenthood

In April, Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s administration announced Planned Parenthood and all abortion affiliates would be banned from the Texas Medicaid Women’s Health Program (WHP), citing state law restricting them from receiving public funding. 

According to Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, “State law is very clear. It establishes qualifications for WHP providers and prohibits physicians, clinics, and other providers that perform elective abortions or are affiliated with abortion providers to be eligible for Women’s Health Program funding.”

Disagreeing with that policy, the federal government decided to pull all federal funding from the state’s Medicaid program, and a district court ordered the state to continue funding the abortion affiliate.

The case has now been brought to an appeals court, which is set to make a determination on the future of the program. In the meantime, the appeals court has reinstated the district court order, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue receiving public funding until the court makes it decision in the case.

Abortion and Taxpayer Funding

A significant political divide remains over the ban, and abortion affiliates such as Planned Parenthood continue to argue it was unnecessary and politically motivated.

Alejandra Diaz, communication specialist for Planned Parenthood, stated in a press availability, “Through WHP, we [Planned Parenthood] provide preventative services such as breast screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and birth control. Abortions are not included under WHP, and Gov Perry is putting his beliefs and political agenda before women’s health.”

Gov. Perry’s administration, however, maintains the decision was made in accordance with the wishes of Texas residents. Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, agrees.

“Gov. Perry was enforcing what was duly passed by the legislature, the elected body reflecting the will of the people of Texas,” said Wohlgemuth. “Texans have insisted that no taxpayer money be used to support abortion in any way.”

Behind the Scenes Change

Regardless of the court’s ruling, Gov. Perry has made plans to transition WHP into a purely state-funded operation, with the aim of continuing to serve the health care needs of low income women.

“The change will be invisible to clients and providers,” Goodman said.

“It will be a behind-the-scenes change in the funding source the state uses to pay for the program,” Goodman said. “The state is not changing who qualifies for the program or how providers are paid. Texas has never limited enrollment, and we’ll continue that policy of enrolling every eligible woman who applies.”

With the program continuing in a new fashion, plus the availability of other outlets where women can receive necessary health services, Wohlgemuth is confident any interruption in care should be minimal.

“Gov. Perry has said the program will be funded with [only] state dollars if the federal government insists on imposing its will over the will of the people of Texas, and Federally Qualified Health Centers not only provide access for low-income women but also provide a much broader array of primary care services than is offered by Planned Parenthood,” Goodman said.

Decision Expected in June

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Gov. Perry’s administration, says the pull of federal funding was an overreach of its authority and violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Gov. Perry’s office is closely working with Attorney General Abbott to defend the will of Texans and state law, which prohibits taxpayer funds from supporting abortion providers and affiliates in the WHP,” said Frazier. “We are confident in the attorney general’s appeal and will continue to pursue all available legal options in this effort.”

The U.S. appeals court is scheduled to make its decision the first week of June.