In anti-Obama editorial about women’s health cuts, Perry leaves out key points

Posted on: March 6th, 2012 by Mary Tuma 2 Comments

In a scathing editorial that blames the Obama administration for the state’s upcoming expected loss of a potentially life-saving federal health care program, Gov. Rick Perry leaves out a few key points amid his condemnation.

Posted just a few days after the Texas Health and Human Services Commission signed a rule excluding Planned Parenthood and abortion affiliates from being part of the Medicaid-based Women’s Health Program – which helps pay for basic preventative care like breast and cervical cancer screenings, STD testing and birth control but not abortions– Perry penned a strongly worded defense of the state rule that will leave more than 124,000 low-income women without reproductive and family planning care. Titled, “Obama Administration Placing Pro-Abortion Politics Over Women’s Health,” the governor takes sharp aim at the federal administration, casting its pro-choice policies as the cause of the WHP funding block­.

“Unfortunately, President Obama and his allies are once again putting their political agenda ahead of sound policy and the delivery of cost-efficient health care. They are trampling on the rights of states like Texas to create programs like the Women’s Health Program and to administer it for Texans by Texans.”

“Why would the Obama Administration take away access to health care for low-income Texas women? Because this administration puts funding for abortion providers and affiliates ahead of funding for women’s cancer screenings and other preventative health care.”

Because Texas refuses to fund abortion providers and their affiliates, writes Perry, the federal government is canceling the Women’s Health Program. “To me, this reflects a twisted set of values, not to mention a continued disregard for the basic concept of states’ rights.” Rejecting the Texas program, “reflects nothing more than its pro-abortion agenda, and is a blatant pander to the president’s liberal base, which has made Planned Parenthood’s abortion services a celebrated cause.”

While Perry argues the Obama administration disregards states rights in rejecting Texas’ rule excluding Planned Parenthood, saying federal law leaves it to state leaders to administer criteria for who can qualify for the Medicaid program, he omits an important distinction. Although the federal government allows states some leeway in deciding criteria for who can be part of Medicaid, they cannot exclude a provider “solely on the basis of the range of medical services they provide,” as per a memo sent out to all 50 states in June by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States can only exclude providers under specific circumstances that include heavy criminality like committing fraud.

In response to an attempt by Indiana state officials who similarly sought to cut Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made the point clear, warning states are barred from shutting out, “qualified health care providers from providing services that are funded under the program because of a provider’s scope of practice,” effectively denying the state’s request as it fails to comply with the Social Security Act. To Indiana officials, CMS Medicaid Administrator Donald M. Berwick wrote, “Such a restriction would have a particular effect on beneficiaries’ ability to access family planning providers.”

Moreover, Berwick reminds that Indiana Medicaid is prohibited from paying for abortions, under federal law (unless it is an extreme case such as rape or incest)– the same rule applies on the state level in Texas.

Despite the glaring federal restrictions, the Texas HHSC, Perry and other lawmakers continue to argue the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funds is constitutionally sound, pointing to an Attorney General ruling released last year.

In a memo released today, Texas House Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) called Perry’s commentary a mischaracterization. While the governor calls the end of the program a case that “boils down to the rule of law,” Walle points out that Perry fails to mention the fact that the state law co-existed with the federal statute for six years.

HHSC did not have to adopt this rule which more explicitly conflicts with the spirit of the federal law that allows managed care beneficiaries to receive care from their provider of choice (often referred to as the “any willing provider” or “free choice of provider” provision), writes Walle.

“Despite the guidance from CMS, Governor Perry and HHSC decided to politicize and jeopardize access to lifesaving health care, adopting a rule that will likely end the Women’s Health Program,” he said. “The governor and HHSC’s choice to adopt the rule reflects their lack of concern for the basic health needs of Texas women, as well as an indifference toward the way taxpayers’ money is spent.”

According to the Texas HHSC’s own study, The Women’s Health Program saved Texas $20 million and averted more than 6000 unplanned pregnancies in 2009, the Texas Independent previously reported. Its anticipated demise has already pushed an Odessa Planned Parenthood center to close it doors this week and leave about 2500 low-income women to search elsewhere for reproductive care.

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