Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Texas Gave an Anti-Abortion Group $1.6 Million to Improve Women's Health Care. It Hasn't.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 5:30 PM

click image Carol Everett, director of the Heidi Group - YOUTUBE VIA FACINGLIFEHEADON
  • YouTube via FacingLifeHeadOn
  • Carol Everett, director of the Heidi Group
It's been eight months since Texas paid a conservative, anti-abortion organization to help connect low-income women to health care providers — and there's little to show for it. That's according to a Tuesday Associated Press report, which found the Heidi Group has presented no evidence that it's following through on its promise to Texas taxpayers.

In August, Texas health officials gave the anti-abortion group $1.6 million to help smaller clinics reach low-income patients eligible for the brand-new Healthy Texas Women program, the state's Medicaid voucher program meant to cover low-income women. Carol Everett, the Heidi Group's leader, promised 20 proposed clinics could reach 50,000 patients in one year by crafting marketing campaigns, adding new staff and modernizing clinic websites.

But, according to the AP report, none of that has happened:
An Associated Press review found the nonprofit has done little of the outreach it promised, such as helping 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.
None of the clinic officials would speak to the AP on the record, if at all.

Texas only created this 2-year-old women's health program after slashing the state family planning grants by 66 percent, ousting Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, and effectively forcing 82 family planning clinics to close. State officials promised Healthy Texas Women would fill the void.

So far, it hasn't.

Why? According to Everett (who's also known for her firm belief that HIV could be transmitted through drinking water), it's not her group's fault. The clinics either "don't have time" to work with them or don't want to use the website designs and social media campaigns the Heidi Group has recommended, Everett told the AP. Plus, she added, the state's funding has been slow to come in (a claim the state denied).

"It's not as easy as it looks because we are not Planned Parenthood," she said. Planned Parenthood, however, hasn't seen a state dollar since 2013. Everett has 1.6 million of them.

The state, however, doesn't seem too concerned with the AP's findings.

"Our women's health programs were redesigned to better serve Texas, and there is a slight learning curve for everyone," said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams in an email to the Current. "They're a new contractor for us... there are understandably going to be some questions."

The Heidi Group's troubles were not unexpected. Many women's health care providers and reproductive rights advocates warned the state that choosing an anti-abortion organization (instead of an actual health care provider) to guide the brand new Healthy Texas Women program was reckless. On top of that, the Heidi Group's proposed providers included clinics that had closed, didn't provide any women's health care, or were known to give patients misleading medical information.

"What the AP revealed was a concern of ours from the get-go," said Alexa Garcia-Ditta, spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. "This is not where we should be spending our money. It's clear that this ideological group is not being a good steward of tax payer dollars."

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, continues its perpetual fight to remain open (and affordable) in the state. In February, a judge ruled that the health organization shouldn't be cut from Texas Medicaid coverage — a ruling Texas' attorney general has vowed to challenge. And a Monday report from the Congressional Budget Office found that cutting Planned Parenthood from the national Medicaid plan would block 15 percent of the country's women currently enrolled from health services meant to "avert pregnancy.”

Jeffrey Hons, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood South Texas, said this isn't the first time the state has taken extreme measures to block abortion access at the expense of women's health care.

"This is what happens when you take ideological decisions and measure them against real public health metrics," Hons said. If this were a program meant for Texas men instead of women, Hons argues state officials would call it "absolutely unacceptable."

"It's only been allowed to continue because it's about women. Women without money," Hons said. "The state has allowed poor women to become the political casualties in this ideological fight."

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