Texas hearing on Planned Parenthood gets emotional

Associated Press Modified: September 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm •  Published: September 4, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — State lawmakers, hospital system administrators and dozens of women urged Texas officials Tuesday not to sever funding to Planned Parenthood under a law barring state support for clinics affiliated with abortion providers.

A smaller, but no less vocal, number of people opposing abortion turned out to applaud the move during an emotionally charged public hearing.

Officials are working to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services to poor women as part of the Texas Women's Health Program after the Republican-led Texas Legislature passed a law last year banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings and other services — but not abortions — to about half of the around 130,000 low-income Texas women enrolled in the program, which is designed for women who might not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood has sued, but a federal appeals court ruled Aug. 21 that the state can proceed with plans to cut off funding for it as part of the Women's Health Program, and officials have promised to do so as soon as possible.

During the hearing, they presented proposed rules on how to do that — even though Planned Parenthood filed an appeal of the court's order Tuesday evening.

The federal government had funded 90 percent of the program, which costs about $40 million annually. But it says the Texas law violates federal rules and that it will stop funding Nov. 1. Texas has vowed to continue the program on its own.

The rules, which are expected to take several weeks to implement, say Texas can pay more than $900,000 this fiscal year, $39.1 million in fiscal year 2013, and $13.8 million the following fiscal year to keep the plan going. They also call for expanding coverage for participants to include treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

The state will obtain the funds for the program mostly by imposing a hiring freeze on state Health and Human Services Commission administrative posts and stepping up Texas' efforts to recover Medicaid funds lost to fraud or wasteful spending.

The state eventually expects to keep the program alive using the White House-backed health care overhaul, which calls for greatly expanding Medicaid eligibility in January 2014. But Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, pointed out that Gov. Rick Perry has already said Texas won't participate in the Medicaid expansion, which could leave the Women's Health Program hanging.

"We should avoid trying to cobble together funding," he said, noting that the Health and Human Services Commission estimates that without the program, the state and federal governments would have to pay $148 million through fiscal year 2015 in extra Medicaid costs due to rising pregnancy rates.

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