Hearing to determine healthcare fate of 8,000 low-income Texans draws closer

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Only a week remains on the temporary restraining order issued by a Travis County judge that blocked an attempt by Gov. Greg Abbott to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program.

At-risk are some 8,000 low-income Texans who depend on Planned Parenthood for their healthcare, including access to birth control and life-saving cancer screenings.

“These are people who are already struggling to survive the pandemic,” Planned Parenthood Texas Votes Director Dyana Limon-Mercado told the Signal. “They are single-parent and essential workers, disproportionately Black and Latino patients.”

A hearing on Feb. 17 will be the latest movement in a series of legal battles Republicans have waged for six years to defund Planned Parenthood.

Limon-Mercado said those Texans losing their healthcare provider during a pandemic would be devastating, especially since there is no guarantee that other providers will absorb new patients in a Medicaid system that is already being stress-tested by the pandemic.

“Texas already had one of the highest insured populations in the country,” Limon-Mercado said. “And now the state is attempting to throw 8,000 more people out of a healthcare clinic that is ready, willing, and able to provide care.”

Those concerns were echoed by all 13 Democrats in Texas’ congressional delegation who penned a letter to Abbott earlier this month asking him to reverse his efforts to boot Planned Parenthood from the Texas Medicaid program. 

“Governor Abbott, your decisions to restrict access to health care providers while our health care system continues to be overloaded with COVID-19 patients is negligent and will cost even more lives,” they wrote. “We urge you to stop playing politics with Texans’ health care.”

“The idea that other providers could absorb Planned Parenthood providers’ family planning patients has been resoundingly dismissed by experts — in fact, the American Public Health Association called the idea ludicrous,” they continued, noting that the Government Accountability Office had found that over two-thirds of states were reporting difficulty finding providers for Medicaid enrollees, especially providers that cover OB/GYN care like Planned Parenthood.

Gov. Greg Abbott renewed his push to defund Planned Parenthood after a November ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last year that gave the governor permission to move ahead with his plan. 

A month after the ruling, Planned Parenthood asked Texas officials for a six-month grace period to allow them to continue to reach patients during the pandemic as well as help them find new providers that were willing to accept new Medicaid patients.

“The health care network for Medicaid recipients is not always easy to manage, and care is not always easy to find,” warned President of Planned Parenthood South Texas Jeffrey Hons at the time. “The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing pressures on our safety- net infrastructure. The people who rely on Medicaid are the most vulnerable Texans, and likely experiencing some of the worst economic effects of the pandemic.”

Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state’s health agency to give Planned Parenthood only 30 days to scramble to accommodate its patients in healthcare limbo. 

Now leading his last session before re-election, Abbott has been happy to sit in the spotlight as the state moves to defund Planned Parenthood.  “This session, we need a law that ensures that the life of every child will be spared from the ravages of abortion,” the governor said during his “State of the State” address earlier this month.

Republican lawmakers in the state share the same energy and plan to use the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to leverage controversial abortion bills, according to the Texas Tribune.

Despite the GOP’s chest-thumping on the issue, public opinion is firmly with Planned Parenthood. A poll last month found two-thirds of Texan voters favor enabling people enrolled in Medicaid to have their pregnancy-related healthcare, including abortion, covered by their health insurance.

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

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