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Suehs: Feds' Stand on Women's Health Sets Bad Precedent

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs (left), and Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune
Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs (left), and Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

The state's health commissioner is blasting the Obama administration's argument that it can't renew a joint state-federal health program because Republican lawmakers have banned Planned Parenthood from participating in it. 

In an uncharacteristically angry letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs argues that if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) won't let Texas exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, "then no state can ever confidently apply policies and requirements that advance important and legitimate state interests to regulate providers' participation in Medicaid." 

What that means, Suehs wrote, is that "the state must allow tax cheats, deadbeat parents, and even people suspected of serious abuse to participate in the Medicaid program. This is a risk I am unwilling to expose our clients to." 

The Women's Health Program, which provides contraception, well-woman exams and cancer screenings — but not abortions — for more than 130,000 low-income women ever year, receives $9 from the federal government for every $1 the state spends. Last legislative session, Republican lawmakers passed a measure that would force Planned Parenthood, which provides 40 percent of the Women's Health Program services, and other "affiliates" of clinics that do perform abortions out of the program.

The Obama administration has said excluding Planned Parenthood clinics from the program would violate the Social Security Act; Planned Parenthood has argued if the program ends for good in March, as it's expected to do, the blame falls at the feet of Republican lawmakers.

In his letter, Suehs vehemently disagrees. "If the program ends, it will end because the federal government preferred to promote its support of abortion providers and their affiliates rather than the health of Texas women," he wrote.

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.
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