Planned Par­ent­hood subs fal­ter­ing in Texas trial run

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul J. We­ber

In push­ing a re­place­ment for the Af­ford­able Care Act that cuts off funds for Planned Par­ent­hood, Repub­li­cans are out to re­as­sure women who rely on the ma­jor health care or­ga­ni­za­tion that other clin­ics will step up to pro­vide their low-cost breast ex­ams, con­tra­cep­tion and cancer screen­ings.

Texas is al­ready try­ing to prove it. But one big bet is qui­etly sput­ter­ing, and in dan­ger of teach­ing the op­po­site les­son con­ser­va­tives are af­ter.

Last sum­mer, Texas gave $1.6 mil­lion to an anti-abor­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Heidi Group to help strengthen small clin­ics that spe­cial­ize in women’s health like Planned Par­ent­hood but don’t of­fer abor­tions. The goal was to help the clin­ics boost their pa­tient rolls and show there would be no gap in ser­vices if the na­tion’s largest abor­tion provider had to scale back.

The ef­fort of­fered a model other con­ser­va­tive states could fol­low if Repub­li­cans make their long-sought dream of de­fund

ing Planned Par­ent­hood a re­al­ity un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Sev­eral states are al­ready mov­ing to cur­tail the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s funds.

But eight months later, the Heidi Group has lit­tle to show for its work. An As­so­ci­ated Press re­view found the non­profit has done lit­tle of the out­reach it promised, such as help

ing clin­ics pro­mote their ser­vices on Face­book, or air­ing pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments. It hasn’t made good on plans to es­tab­lish a 1-800 num­ber to help women find providers or en­sure that all clin­ics have up­dated web­sites.

Nei­ther the group nor state of­fi­cials would say how many pa­tients have been served so far by the pri­vate clin­ics.

The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prom­i­nent anti-abor­tion ac­tivist and in­flu­en­tial con­ser­va­tive force in the Texas Leg-

is­la­ture.

In a brief in­ter­view, Everett said some of the com­mu­nity clin­ics aren’t co­op­er­at­ing de­spite her best ef­forts to at­tract more clients.

“We worked on one Face­book site for three months and they didn’t want to do it. And we worked on web­sites and they didn’t want to do it,” Everett said of the clin­ics. “We can’t force them. We’re not forc­ing them.”

Everett said that ad­ver­tis­ing she planned was stalled by de­lays in a sep­a­rate $5.1 mil­lion fam­ily plan­ning con­tract.

Everett pro­posed help­ing two dozen se­lected clin­ics serve 50,000 women over­all in a year, more than such small fa­cil­i­ties would nor­mally han­dle. Clinic of­fi­cials con­tacted by the AP ei­ther did not re­turn phone calls or would not speak on the record.

The Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion, which awarded the fund­ing to the Heidi Group, ac­knowl­edged the prob­lems. Spokes­woman Car­rie Wil­liams said in an email that the agency had to pro­vide “quite a bit” of tech­ni­cal sup­port for the ef­fort and make many site vis­its. She dis­puted that the con­tract fund­ing has been as slow as Everett al­leged.

“The bot­tom line is that we are hold­ing our con­trac­tors ac­count­able, and will do ev­ery­thing we can to help them make them­selves suc­cess­ful,” she said.

In Au­gust, the state had lauded Everett’s pitch for tax­payer funds as “one of the most ro­bust” re­ceived.

Planned Par­ent­hood and its sup­port­ers say the fail­ures show the risks of re­ly­ing on un­proven providers to serve low-in­come women, and that Repub­li­cans’ as­sur­ances about ad­e­quate care are only po­lit­i­cal rhetoric.

“Ev­ery time they try to re­launch one of these women’s health pro­grams, with­out some of the most trusted providers in women’s health, ev­ery sin­gle time they come up short,” said Sarah Wheat, a Planned Par­ent­hood spokes­woman in Texas. “And they show their lack of un­der­stand­ing and re­spect for what women need.”

On Tues­day, the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mated that 15 per­cent of low-in­come peo­ple in ru­ral or un­der­served ar­eas would lose ac­cess to care if Planned Par­ent­hood loses fund­ing. The anal­y­sis also pro­jected sev­eral thou­sand more births in the Med­i­caid pro­gram in the next year.

The Heidi Group is an evan­gel­i­cal non­profit that started in the 1990s and is best known for pro­mot­ing al­ter­na­tives to abor­tion. It op­er­ates with a rel­a­tively small bud­get, tak­ing in about $186,000 in grants and do­na­tions in 2015, ac­cord­ing to tax records, and had not been do­ing pa­tient care.

State of­fi­cials say the yearold women’s health pro­gram in­cludes about 5,000 providers. Planned Par­ent­hood and other abor­tion providers are banned from par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Fed­eral dol­lars com­prise nearly half of the Planned Par­ent­hood’s an­nual bil­lion-dol­lar bud­get, and although gov­ern­ment funds don’t pay for abor­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is re­im­bursed by Med­i­caid for non-abor­tion ser­vices that it says the vast ma­jor­ity of clients re­ceive. Mis­souri is plan­ning to reject fed­eral fund­ing just to keep some of it away from Planned Par­ent­hood, and Iowa is also con­sid­er­ing giv­ing up mil­lions in fed­eral Med­i­caid dol­lars to cre­ate a staterun fam­ily plan­ning pro­gram that ex­cludes abor­tion providers.

U.S. House Repub­li­cans’ health care bill would freeze fund­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood for one year. House Speaker Paul Ryan has sug­gested other clin­ics will pick up the slack.

“It ends fund­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood and sends money to com­mu­nity cen­ters,” Ryan said last week.

Democrats ar­gue that other clin­ics are over­loaded and wouldn’t be able to meet in­creased de­mand.

Af­ter Texas state fund­ing was cut off to abor­tion providers in 2011, 82 fam­ily plan­ning clin­ics closed in the state, a third of which were Planned Par­ent­hood af­fil­i­ates. A state report later found that 30,000 fewer women were served through a Texas women’s health pro­gram af­ter the changes. Planned Par­ent­hood now has 35 clin­ics in Texas and served more than 126,000 in­di­vid­ual pa­tients last year, in­clud­ing those seek­ing abor­tions. The state has pro­vided no es­ti­mates of low-in­come women served by other clin­ics.

Asked whether the Heidi Group would meet the pa­tient tar­gets in her con­tract, Everett said her own goal was to serve 70,000 women.

How­ever, “it’s not as easy as it looks be­cause we are not Planned Par­ent­hood. We are work­ing with pri­vate physi­cians and providers,” Everett said af­ter leav­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing this week at the Texas Capi­tol. She said the clin­ics she is work­ing with are busy see­ing 40 to 50 women a day. “They don’t have time to go out and do some of the things that we would re­ally like to help them do. But we’re there if they want to. And we’re there when they need it. And we’re in their of­fices and we’re help­ing them.”

She had been at the Capi­tol to sup­port a bill that would re­quire abor­tion clin­ics to bury or cre­mate fe­tal re­mains.

ERIC GAY / AP

Life Choices, a clinic in San An­to­nio, is one of about two dozen women’s health providers in Texas work­ing with the Heidi Group.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2016

Carol Everett, CEO of the Heidi Group, speaks in Au­gust dur­ing a De­part­ment of State Health Ser­vices hear­ing about pro­posed rules man­dat­ing the burial or cre­ma­tion of aborted fe­tuses. Everett said this month that some com­mu­nity clin­ics won’t co­op­er­ate with the Heidi Group’s health care ef­forts.

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