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HHS To Begin Winding Down Texas' Women's Health Program

HHS To Begin Winding Down Texas' Women's Health Program

March 16, 2012 — HHS will gradually phase out funding to Texas' Medicaid Women's Health Program so that women do not face gaps in their health care, CMS Director Cindy Mann said on Thursday in a letter officially informing state officials that HHS is ending the financing, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Weissert, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).

The federal government, which covers 90% of the program's cost, previously informed Texas officials that it would suspend the financing as of March 14 if they began enforcing a state law that bars participation by Planned Parenthood and other "affiliates of abortion providers."

Despite the warning, state officials said they would begin enforcing the law on that date. The program provides family planning and basic health screenings for 130,000 low-income women (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/12).

"We very much regret the state's decision to implement this rule, which will prevent women enrolled in the program from receiving services from the trusted health care providers they have chosen and relied on for their care," Mann wrote in the letter (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 3/15).

In a conference call with reporters, Mann said, "Medicaid law is clear -- patients, not state government officials, are able to choose the health-care providers that are best for them and their families." She added, "The state has not changed its position on implementing its rule, and federal law has not changed" (Radnofsky, "Election 2012," Wall Street Journal, 3/15).

Details of Process

Mann said the Obama administration will begin a two-stage process of winding down funding over nine months to "minimize any disruption in coverage for women enrolled in the program" (Forsyth, Reuters, 3/16).

Under the process, Texas will continue to receive federal funding for the next three months. If the state assumes control of the program during that period, funding will end. If the state does not take action after the three months, federal funding will gradually decrease over the next six months (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said last week that Texas would use its own money to continue the program -- at a cost of more than $30 million annually -- if the federal government cut off funding. It is unclear how Texas would provide the funding, but Perry has directed the state Health and Human Services Commission to identify ways to fund the program without adding to an existing Medicaid shortfall (Ramshaw/Tan, Texas Tribune, 3/15).

Mann noted that a Texas-run program would not be subject to federal guidelines. However, the state would need to present a plan by April 16 for approval by federal authorities (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).

Response to Letter

Perry said it is "unconscionable that the Obama administration has essentially told Texas it will send our tax dollars back to fund this program only if we violate state law and include its pro-abortion allies" ("Election 2012," Wall Street Journal, 3/15).

An HHS spokesperson said the administration had no choice because "Medicaid law is very clear" that states cannot exclude qualified providers. The spokesperson added, "In 2005, Texas requested this same authority to restrict patients' choices, and the [George W.] Bush administration did not grant it to them either" (Bassett, Huffington Post, 3/15).