Texas Claims New Women's Health Program Will Serve More Patients Without Planned Parenthood, Despite Contrary Evidence

On New Year's Eve, a state judge ruled that Texas can keep Planned Parenthood out of its new, state-run Women's Health Program. On January 1, that program began; it'll continue to be Planned Parenthood-less until at least January 11, when the next hearing in the case will be held, and possibly forever. And Texas health officials want you to know that despite the fact that Planned Parenthood clinics previously served more than half of all WHP clients under the old, mostly federally funded program, everything's going to be just fine. Somehow. State-affiliated researchers have found, miraculously, that non-Planned Parenthood providers will be able to take on thousands of new patients in 2013, something they learned without even talking to more than half of the providers.

Yesterday, the Health and Human Services Commission released this Provider Capacity Report, which was commissioned to verify that the state "continued to have the capacity to serve all of the women receiving benefits" from the WHP. It sent surveys by telephone, email or post to all non-Planned Parenthood, WHP-eligible clinics in the state, asking how many patients they served in 2012 and how many they'd be able to see in 2013. The results were exceedingly -- some might say disingenuously -- optimistic.

The HHSC claims in their analysis that Planned Parenthood previously served about 40 percent of the nearly 130,000 WHP clients statewide. (Actually, as this Texas Tribune interactive feature points out, independent studies have shown that the real number is anywhere from 45 percent to 80 percent of all WHP clients in some parts of the state.)

Under the new program, the HHSC survey says, the remaining providers estimate they'll be able to serve thousands more patients than they do currently, thus easily absorbing any former Planned Parenthood clients looking for a new home. Only San Angelo faces a "likely capacity deficit." In Dallas, for example, the non-Planned Parenthood clinics that the researchers spoke to served 10,202 patients in 2012 and estimate they'll be able to see 19,896 in 2013.

Impressively, the HHSC researchers managed to get these estimates even when the non-Planned Parenthood healthcare providers didn't respond to their survey. And most of them didn't -- overall, the HHSC's researchers only managed to reach about 44 percent of the providers in the state.

Nonetheless, the researchers provided especially generous estimates for the clinics they didn't talk to. In Dallas, for example, they estimate that the non-responding clinics served 934 people in 2012. In 2013, then, they conclude that they should easily be able to serve 20,830 this year. In San Antonio, the non-responding providers served 2,595 in 2012. So in 2013 they should obviously be able to see a whopping 36,977.

"In most areas," the report concludes, "the survey found that the state has the capacity to serve even more women in 2013."

It's not clear why the state is so confident that these remaining public health agencies can each take on hundreds or thousands more clients. Yet these claims from the HHSC were reprinted uncritically and without much analysis in numerous media outlets, including a widely reprinted AP story .

In response, Planned Parenthood released a statement pointing to a number of other independent studies that have found the exact opposite. In October 2012, for example, George Washington University's School of Public Health found that many large non-Planned Parenthood providers "are generally at, or close to, the limits of their capacity and will not be able to expand much, if at all, due to other resource or staffing constraints."

In December, The Dallas Morning News found that 222 providers in the Dallas area will be expected to serve around 13,000 women. But more than half those providers didn't see any WHP patients at all in 2011, raising questions about their preparedness to take over the excess patients. In an analysis of Austin-area providers, reporter Andrea Grimes found that many non-PP clinics had no idea they were part of the WHP and didn't in fact offer gynecological or family planning services.

The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities said in September that it too has "serious concerns" about the new program. They point out, as we've mentioned before, that family planning funding overall has been cut by about two-thirds, leaving even less money for non-Planned Parenthood providers, who are at the same time being asked to serve thousands more patients. The CPPP also notes that 71 non-Planned Parenthood providers also didn't qualify for the new rules of the WHP, which required them to pinky-swear that they are not "abortion affiliates." That means they, too, are out of the program and unable to see WHP patients.

We could go on like this. Virtually every media outlet in the state and every public policy researcher who's even glanced at the issue for a moment has realized that without Planned Parenthood, the WHP is in serious trouble. Everyone, that is, except for the HHSC, which everywhere its researchers looked found only a "positive" and "robust" health-care network.

"This gives us great confidence that we can continue to provide women with family planning and preventive care and fully comply with state law," HHSC Commissioner Kyle Janek said in a statement yesterday. And apparently, confidence is all it takes.

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