| Health |

Texas Subpoenas Patient Records From Planned Parenthood Clinics

At the start of this week, state health officials began notifying Planned Parenthood clinics across Texas they’d soon be cut off from receiving any Medicaid money administered by the state. In his letters to clinics, the inspector general for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission wrote that their investigation uncovered “information suggesting that fraud and other related program violations” occurred at Planned Parenthood clinics that participate in Medicaid. The inspector general also said the state had “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices by Planned Parenthood affiliates” across Texas.

Those are vague but serious allegations. Yet it appears the state didn’t even begin its investigation into the organization in earnest until Thursday, three days after it had already announced its plan to end all contracts for Planned Parenthood to provide preventative care like birth control, cancer screenings and HIV tests to thousands of Texans through Medicaid — something critics, and even the courts, have said states don’t have the authority to do.

On Thursday, state investigators visited Planned Parenthood facilities across Texas, including two health centers in Houston, presenting letters demanding records going all the way back to 2010. That includes physician orders, progress notes, personal clinic notes, nurses’ notes and lab tests for a number of patients. On the business side, the state demanded, among other things, a complete list of all Planned Parenthood employees (including their home addresses and phone numbers), copies of patient appointment books and sign-in sheets, and “documentation which demonstrates financial ownership” of each Planned Parenthood clinic since 2010. Oh, and the state wanted it all within 24 hours.

On top of that, the state sent subpoenas to at least three Planned Parenthood clinics asking for all records for any patient since 2010 who has billed Medicaid and who also had an abortion in which "any part of the aborted fetus [was] used for any research purpose.”

Texas is hardly the only state to launch an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood skirted federal law in how it was reimbursed for expenses in donating fetal tissue for medical research. Antiabortion activists and their political supporters have insisted that heavily edited videos shot by undercover activists, which were released this summer, prove Planned Parenthood profited off fetal tissue research; the videos launched investigations at the local, state and federal levels.

Planned Parenthood, however, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and forensic analysts who have reviewed the videos say they appear to have been so deceptively crafted that they “do not represent a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict.”

Which might explain why the 11 other states that launched investigations into Planned Parenthood because of the videos haven’t found evidence the organization broke any laws. So far, it seems only state health officials in Texas consider the videos proof that Planned Parenthood is "no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner."

Rochelle Tafolla, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s vice president of communications, insists the state is now on a fishing expedition. “It’s clear that they came looking for an excuse to take health care away from thousands of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventative care," she said of Thursday's visit from state investigators.  

Texas health officials haven't made an official peep about their investigation, but the subpoenas show they’re scouring Planned Parenthood’s records to see if any Medicaid dollars the state has distributed to Planned Parenthood (almost all of which come from the feds) have been spent on abortion. (Given Texas's handling of all things abortion, they're probably looking to see if as much as a dime has been spent in any way possibly related to abortion.)

In fact, the state’s request for records is so far-reaching that Planned Parenthood officials say they're worried about protecting the confidentiality of both their patients and their employees. “We’re concerned about the extensive nature of the information they’re requesting,” Tafolla told us.

Since state health officials are mum at the moment, we don't really have a good idea of what, if any, dirt they think they’ve got on Planned Parenthood right now. But perhaps it's telling that the state announced it wanted to ban Planned Parenthood from Medicaid three days before it started searching far and wide for evidence of wrongdoing to justify banning Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

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