Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Streaming troubles? We've made changes. Please click here on for more information.

Feds Approve One Texas Health Waiver, Reject Another

Photo by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has turned down Texas’ request to run a family planning program that excludes certain providers — namely Planned Parenthood — saying it’s a violation of the federal Social Security Act.

But in the same breath, federal officials approved the state’s request for a waiver to expand Texas’ Medicaid managed care program statewide, and to establish funding pools to help providers recoup the costs of uncompensated care.

In one letter sent to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Monday, Cindy Mann, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, said the state’s request to circumvent federal rules — namely the Social Security Act — by restricting family planning providers in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program was not acceptable. The state’s request was in keeping with lawmakers’ efforts last legislative session to try to force Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions at some of its facilities, but in none affiliated with the Women’s Health Program, out of business.

“We want to be very clear [that] Medicaid does not pay for abortions and will not pay for abortions,” Mann said in a phone interview. “…We indicated to the state today [that] their proposal violates the longstanding law.”

Mann said the agency would extend Texas’ existing Women’s Health Program through March while state and federal officials try to determine how to proceed.

“We’re very much interested in continuing discussions with them on having a longstanding renewal of the family planning demonstration program,” Mann said. “…The issue here is not whether Medicaid funding is involved but whether the state can restrict access to a qualified health provider simply because they provide other services Medicaid doesn’t pay for.”

In a second letter sent to Texas officials on Monday, Marilyn Tavenner, the acting administrator of the federal agency, said the feds had approved Texas’ request for a waiver to expand its STAR and STAR+PLUS Medicaid managed care programs, and to create funding mechanisms to help keep safety net hospitals afloat and transform the state’s health system. 

Tom Suehs, HHSC’s executive commissioner, didn’t immediately respond to the family planning waiver rejection. But he said in a statement that the managed care waiver “will allow us to replace an archaic federal Medicaid funding system with one built around local solutions.”

He added: “These reforms will allow us to ensure the best, most efficient use of Mediaid funding and improve services for Texans.”

Emily Ramshaw investigates state agencies and covers social services for KUT's political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she received a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Related Content