Texas Women's Health Program Still Says it Has Enough Docs, Even As It's Forced To Take Down Its Error-Riddled Provider Database

On January 1, Texas took over the Women's Health Program, booted Planned Parenthood out and dyed the website several shades of Pepto Bismol pink. Despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, Health and Human Services Commission officials continue to claim there'll be more than enough doctors for every woman still in the program, even without Planned Parenthood. The latest stat they're handing out is that there will be "five family planning clinics and more than 70 individual physicians in the program for every clinic that won't qualify under the new rule," according to this new Q&A.

But just who are those doctors and clinics? Back in September, RH Reality Check reporter Andrea Grimes found that the listed WHP providers in Austin left much to be desired. The WHP website at that time had a function where you could search through a database for providers in your zip code, within a 30-mile radius. But besides having duplicated entries, the database listed places like "radiology associates and labs and pediatricians and even closed clinics," as Grimes wrote. A similar analysis by the Dallas Morning News this month found that the Dallas provider list is, surprise, also riddled with errors, including listings for a title loan company and a sports medicine clinic.

"I don't know anything about any women's health program," a receptionist told me last week, when I called five providers in my ZIP code. (She was the only person who picked up the phone or returned messages left on Friday morning.)

So, that's embarrassing. Seemingly in response to the DMN article, the HHSC recently pulled the entire provider database off the WHP site. The new page directs women who need a doctor to call a 1-800 number.

HHSC spokeswoman Linda Edwards Gockel told the DMN that a new provider list would be up in about a week, adding that the agency was "working on the website look up list to make it more useful for women searching for a new provider." She said they would take out entries for locations that don't provide "a comprehensive family planning exam" and reorganizing the listed results so that the providers who were able to take the most patients would be listed first.

In other words, the HHSC is still claiming they have plenty of doctors to go around. Seventy to one. Great odds. They just can't make the full list available to the general public right this minute.

What's puzzling about this whole thing is that the HHSC recently released a Patient Capacity Report to back up that more-than-enough doctors claim. They only received an answer from 44 percent of the providers in question, and went on to sort of guesstimate how many patients the non-responding clinics will be able to take on in the future.

So the claim is that the HHSC surveyors at least attempted to contact every clinic in the state that's listed as a WHP member. Shouldn't they have noticed at some point that they were also calling sports medicine clinics and title loan centers and endoscopy providers? There's no mention of that in the report -- only claims that the survey results were "positive" and the patient coverage was "robust."

Rep. Donna Howard of Austin told the Texas Tribune that the survey results seem "overly optimistic." Another, less diplomatic term for that might be that they seem like bullshit.

Rep. Jessica Farrar, a state rep from Houston, also seems to smell something unpleasant. According to the Tribune, she's filed an open records request asking that the HHSC release a full list of providers in the program, "along with the number of patients they anticipate serving, the number of patients served by the former Medicaid Women's Health Program and the geographical areas in the state where provider enrollment does not meet demand."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan