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Official: Actions Against Planned Parenthood Are Not Final

In an interview Saturday, the Texas official in charge of the Medicaid inquiry of Planned Parenthood said that the organization has not been terminated from that federal health care program and that it will take at least a month to determine whether it should be.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin is shown in 2015.

The Texas official in charge of the Medicaid inquiry of Planned Parenthood says that the organization has not been terminated from that federal health care program and that it would take at least a month to determine whether it should be.

In an interview Saturday with The Texas Tribune, Stuart Bowen Jr., head of the Office of Inspector General at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the “notice of termination” sent to Planned Parenthood last week is the start of a civil enforcement process — and not a final determination of the organization’s status as a Medicaid provider in Texas.

“We did not terminate them,” he said. “We began a process ... inclusive of the development of evidence.”

The wording of that notice, along with public statements from the governor and other top state officials, made last week’s actions sound more final than they are.

“The State has determined that you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner,” Bowen wrote in his letter to the organization last Monday.

Bowen wrote that the termination would not affect care in the state "because there are thousands of alternative providers in Texas." And he encouraged Planned Parenthood to direct its Medicaid patients to those other providers.

Gov. Greg Abbott and others chimed in. “Texas completely ends taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” Abbott said Monday on his personal Twitter account. That was echoed Monday on his state account: “Consistent w/ my LIFE Initiative, @TexasOIG today issued a letter ending Medicaid participation for @PPact in Texas.”

It’s not as conclusive as they made it sound. Bowen’s evidence appeared to come primarily from videos shot by activists out to discredit Planned Parenthood. He also made references to two court cases over Medicaid billings in which the state prevailed over Planned Parenthood, and to whistleblowers who worked there. One of those court cases is a year old, and the other ended in July 2013.

“It’s typical of any civil regulatory process,” Bowen said. The state sent Planned Parenthood a “notice of termination” that gives the provider 30 days to answer and to start the back and forth with regulators that might — or might not — result in an end of its Medicaid reimbursements. It won’t be over until and unless the agency issues a “final notice of termination” — after Planned Parenthood has officially responded and the state has put together whatever evidence it can find. The provider can also request an administrative hearing with the agency.

Three days after Bowen’s initial letter, state officials visited Planned Parenthood offices in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Brownsville, making extensive records requests to support their termination notice — to determine whether any fraud has actually been committed. Those visits, Bowen said Saturday, were not as confrontational as some depicted — more like meetings than like police actions.

His office asked Planned Parenthood for a lot of information and initially demanded delivery within 24 hours. That, Bowen said, is in federal Medicaid statutes; he said he expected Planned Parenthood to ask for more time and expected to give it to them. He already extended that deadline into next week and said the provider might need another extension to produce all of those records. “We knew they would ask for time and were happy to give it to them,” he said.

Bowen said his office has also rescinded a much-criticized request that Planned Parenthood turn over personal information — phone numbers and addresses — of its employees and owners. “There’s no need for that right now,” he said.

The request for case files with information about clients is still on. The privacy of that information is protected by federal law and he said it is also relatively routine — something state officials have requested “tens of thousands of times” without a data breach.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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