State can­cels con­tracts with group

Anti-abortion health care co­or­di­na­tor ac­cused of mis­us­ing funds fac­ing in­quiry

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By An­drea Zelin­ski

AUSTIN — Texas health of­fi­cials who awarded $6.3 mil­lion in state con­tracts to an anti-abortion women’s health care co­or­di­na­tor an­nounced Fri­day that the con­tracts are be­ing can­celed af­ter the group mis­used some of that fund­ing.

The Heidi Group’s state con­tract award was crit­i­cized by abortion rights ac­tivists who ques­tioned early on why the state would hire an anti-abortion group with no ex­pe­ri­ence to run a fam­ily plan­ning pro­gram for low-in­come women.

“The ev­i­dence has been out there from the start of this fi­asco for ev­ery­one who isn’t will­fully blind,” said Kathy Miller, pres­i­dent of the Texas Free­dom Net­work, which ad­vo­cates for civil lib­er­ties. “We hope this sig­nals that the state is se­ri­ous about work­ing with qual­i­fied providers and will start bas­ing de­ci­sions about women’s health on ev­i­dence in­stead of anti-abortion pol­i­tics. But ei­ther way, this is a vic­tory for com­mon sense and the women of Texas.”

The state is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing how The Heidi Group spent about $1.1 mil­lion it re­ceived with billings that are sus­pected to be for in­el­i­gi­ble ser­vices. The group will also have to pay back the Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion at least $29,400 in state money that went to­ward other costs that are not al­lowed un­der its con­tract, state of­fi­cials said.

“The Heidi Group has had sub­stan­tial de­fi­cien­cies in the ar­eas of con­tract com­pli­ance, ser­vice ad­min­is­tra­tion, and fi­nan­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tion man­age­ment of both con­tracts,” a state­ment from the com­mis­sion read. Al­though the group will be re­moved from the state’s net­work of women’s health care providers, the com­mis­sion said thou­sands of providers are still avail­able.

State of­fi­cials hired The Heidi Group, which is based in the Austin sub­urb of Round Rock and run by anti-abortion ac­tivist Carol Ev­erett, in 2016 to pro­vide fam­ily plan­ning and well­ness care, al­though Ev­erett had no ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning such pro­grams. The group pledged to serve al­most 70,000 women but has served just 3,356 clients, ac- cord­ing to the com­mis­sion. The group lists 32 clinics where women can ob­tain well­ness or fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices.

Ev­erett’s or­ga­ni­za­tion first won con­tracts to co­or­di­nate care for Texas women in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion that dis­man­tled the state’s reg­u­la­tions on abortion clinics as un­con­sti­tu­tional. Texas of­fi­cials then ap­proved a con­tract with The Heidi Group, un­veiled a fe­tal burial pol­icy and in­serted in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion in state brochures about abortion.

“Given the anti-abortion sen­ti­ment that con­trols state gov­ern­ment, I as­sume that’s why The Heidi Group was fa­vor­ably con­sid­ered,” said Rep. Sarah Davis, a Hous­ton Repub­li­can. “It seems that we are not wisely us­ing tax­payer dollars.”

The con­tracts will ter­mi­nate Dec. 11.

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