MT Medicaid Fraud Probe Snares “Egg-as-Person” Leader

Wendy Norris

The primary care physician leading the Montana "personhood" campaign is under multiple investigations for Medicaid fraud: She allegedly insisted that patients pray with her.

The primary care physician leading the
"personhood" ballot measure campaign in Montana is under multiple
investigations for Medicaid fraud.

In a one-sided news story
published in the Daily Inter Lake, Dr.
Ann Bukacek confirmed that state and federal investigators launched the probe
after allegations were raised about the Kalispell, Mont., doctor’s billing
practices and related complaints that she submitted Medicaid reimbursements for
time spent praying with patients.

Bukacek told the newspaper that fraud investigators asked "How much time we spend on it, how
we decide how to pray, how we pray with non-Christians."

She blames a disgruntled former employee for the most recent
investigation which marks a string of four earlier inquiries that began in
April over other unspecified complaints about billing issues. State and federal
authorities declined to comment or even verify the existence of the probes.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Bukacek is no stranger to controversy — the seriousness of
the current charges aside.

She is president of the Montana ProLife Coalition which is
again fronting the state’s "personhood" amendment to codify
constitutional rights for fertilized eggs. Their first attempt in 2008 failed
to qualify enough petition signatures to make the ballot. The group has also
agitated for conservatively-allied state lawmakers to sponsor
"personhood" amendments and repeal privacy clauses related to
abortion care. Though the measures passed the state Senate they were ultimately
defeated in the House.

Bukacek also claims to be on the steering committee of the
anti-health reform astroturf group, Coalition to
Protect Patient Rights
, that is managed by the Washington, D.C.,
lobbyist firm the DCI Group, best known for its pro-tobacco smokers’ rights
campaigns.

Though her leadership in CPPR could not be confirmed by
independent sources, Bukacek’s husband Roland Horst
appeared in a video
for the fake grassroots organization. Horst was
billed as a "medical billing specialist and massage therapist."

Bukacek’s well-established conservative religious beliefs
and opposition to federal health care reform, which she derides as
"Obamacare," are regularly splashed in newspaper guest editorials and
a seemingly endless stream of letters to the editor.

Planted in the Nov. 8 Daily
Inter Lake
story are unsubstantiated allegations by unnamed anti-choice
advocates that Bukacek is being targeted because she is an outspoken advocate
for right wing political views.

However, a less sinister reason may come from another Daily Inter Lake sop story printed March 2 that notes a previous
professional dispute over her inappropriate conduct with patients:

Bukacek spent five years at Kalispell
Diagnostic Service but was told she’d have to stop praying with patients or
leave the physician group. She wouldn’t compromise her faith, so she broke away
and began her own practice.

From a practical standpoint, many cash-strapped states are
redoubling their efforts to sniff out Medicaid fraud. Unlike Medicare, the
federal health care entitlement program that covers people over the age of 65
and those with certain disabilities, Medicaid is a joint state-federal funded
program for low-income people.

The Montana Medicaid fraud unit
has recovered $7.8 million
since 1993 from convictions for improper
billing, false claims and illegal kickbacks paid to physicians by medical
device and pharmaceutical companies.

If Bukacek is charged and eventually convicted of Medicaid
fraud, she could face up to 10 years in state
prison and a fine not to exceed $50,000
.

Ironically, an amendment to the
Senate health care reform bill
under debate this week aims to
strengthen Medicaid and Medicare fraud enforcement. The very bill Bukacek
dismisses as unnecessary government interference. 

Culture & Conversation Media

Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos Centers Abortion Stories in New Documentary

Renee Bracey Sherman

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

A new film by producer and director Tracy Droz Tragos, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, profiles several Missouri residents who are forced to drive across the Mississippi River into Illinois for abortion care.

The 93-minute film features interviews with over 20 women who have had or are having abortions, most of whom are Missouri residents traveling to the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Like Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Missouri has only one abortion clinic in the entire state.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

The women share their experiences, painting a more nuanced picture that shows why one in three women of reproductive age often seek abortion care in the United States.

The film arrives at a time when personal stories are center stage in the national conversation about abortion, including in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, and rightly so. The people who actually have and provide abortions should be driving the narrative, not misinformation and political rhetoric. But while I commend recent efforts by filmmakers like Droz Tragos and others to center abortion stories in their projects, these creators still have far to go when it comes to presenting a truly diverse cadre of storytellers if they really want to shift the conversation around abortion and break down reproductive stigma.

In the wake of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, which was at the heart of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court case, Droz Tragos, a Missouri native, said in a press statement she felt compelled to document how her home state has been eroding access to reproductive health care. In total, Droz Tragos interviewed 81 people with a spectrum of experiences to show viewers a fuller picture of the barriersincluding legislation and stigmathat affect people seeking abortion care.

Similar to HBO documentaries about abortion that have come before it—including 12th & Delaware and Abortion: Desperate ChoicesAbortion: Stories Women Tell involves short interviews with women who are having and have had abortions, conversations with the staff of the Hope Clinic about why they do the work they do, interviews with local anti-choice organizers, and footage of anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, along with beautiful shots of the Midwest landscape and the Mississippi River as patients make road trips to appointments. There are scenes of clinic escorts holding their ground as anti-choice protesters yell Bible passages and obscenities at them. One older clinic escort carries a copy of Living in the Crosshairs as a protester follows her to her car, shouting. The escort later shares her abortion story.

One of the main storytellers, Amie, is a white 30-year-old divorced mother of two living in Boonville, Missouri. She travels over 100 miles each way to the Hope Clinic, and the film chronicles her experience in getting an abortion and follow-up care. Almost two-thirds of people seeking abortions, like Amie, are already a parent. Amie says that the economic challenges of raising her other children make continuing the pregnancy nearly impossible. She describes being physically unable to carry a baby and work her 70 to 90 hours a week. Like many of the storytellers in the film, Amie talks about the internalized stigma she’s feeling, the lack of support she has from loved ones, and the fear of family members finding out. She’s resilient and determined; a powerful voice.

The film also follows Kathy, an anti-choice activist from Bloomfield, Missouri, who says she was “almost aborted,” and that she found her calling in the anti-choice movement when she noticed “Anne” in the middle of the name “Planned Parenthood.” Anne is Kathy’s middle name.

“OK Lord, are you telling me that I need to get in the middle of this?” she recalls thinking.

The filmmakers interview the staff of the Hope Clinic, including Dr. Erin King, a pregnant abortion provider who moved from Chicago to Granite City to provide care and who deals with the all-too-common protesting of her home and workplace. They speak to Barb, a talkative nurse who had an abortion 40 years earlier because her nursing school wouldn’t have let her finish her degree while she was pregnant. And Chi Chi, a security guard at the Hope Clinic who is shown talking back to the protesters judging patients as they walk into the clinic, also shares her abortion story later in the film. These stories remind us that people who have abortions are on the frontlines of this work, fighting to defend access to care.

To address the full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, the film also features the stories of a few who, for various reasons, placed their children for adoption or continued to parent. While the filmmakers interview Alexis, a pregnant Black high school student whose mother died when she was 8 years old, classmates can be heard in the distance tormenting her, asking if she’s on the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant. She’s visibly distraught and crying, illustrating the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum women of color experiencing unintended pregnancy often face.

Te’Aundra, another young Black woman, shares her story of becoming pregnant just as she received a college basketball scholarship. She was forced to turn down the scholarship and sought an adoption, but the adoption agency refused to help her since the child’s father wouldn’t agree to it. She says she would have had an abortion if she could start over again.

While anti-choice rhetoric has conflated adoption as the automatic abortion alternative, research has shown that most seeking adoption are personally debating between adoption and parenting. This is illustrated in Janet’s story, a woman with a drug addiction who was raising one child with her partner, but wasn’t able to raise a second, so she sought an adoption. These stories are examples of the many societal systems failing those who choose adoption or students raising families, in addition to those fighting barriers to abortion access.

At times, the film feels repetitive and disjointed, but the stories are powerful. The range of experiences and reasons for having an abortion (or seeking adoption) bring to life the data points too often ignored by politicians and the media: everything from economic instability and fetal health, to domestic violence and desire to finish an education. The majority of abortion stories featured were shared by those who already had children. Their stories had a recurring theme of loneliness and lack of support from their loved ones and friends at a time when they needed it. Research has shown that 66 percent of people who have abortions tend to only tell 1.24 people about their experience, leaving them keeping a secret for fear of judgment and shame.

While many cite financial issues when paying for abortions or as the reason for not continuing the pregnancy, the film doesn’t go in depth about how the patients come to pay for their abortions—which is something my employer, the National Network for Abortion Funds (NNAF), directly addresses—or the systemic issues that created their financial situations.

However, it brings to light the hypocrisy of our nation, where the invisible hand of our society’s lack of respect for pregnant people and working parents can force people to make pregnancy decisions based on economic situations rather than a desire to be pregnant or parent.

“I’m not just doing this for me” is a common phrase when citing having an abortion for existing or future children.

Overall, the film is moving simply because abortion stories are moving, especially for audiences who don’t have the opportunity to have someone share their abortion story with them personally. I have been sharing my abortion story for five years and hearing someone share their story with me always feels like a gift. I heard parts of my own story in those shared; however, I felt underrepresented in this film that took place partly in my home state of Illinois. While people of color are present in the film in different capacities, a racial analysis around the issues covered in the film is non-existent.

Race is a huge factor when it comes to access to contraception and reproductive health care; over 60 percent of people who have abortions are people of color. Yet, it took 40 minutes for a person of color to share an abortion story. It seemed that five people of color’s abortion stories were shown out of the over 20 stories, but without actual demographic data, I cannot confirm how all the film’s storytellers identify racially. (HBO was not able to provide the demographic data of the storytellers featured in the film by press time.)

It’s true that racism mixed with sexism and abortion stigma make it more difficult for people of color to speak openly about their abortion stories, but continued lack of visual representation perpetuates that cycle. At a time when abortion storytellers themselves, like those of NNAF’s We Testify program, are trying to make more visible a multitude of identities based on race, sexuality, immigration status, ability, and economic status, it’s difficult to give a ringing endorsement of a film that minimizes our stories and relegates us to the second half of a film, or in the cases of some of these identities, nowhere at all. When will we become the central characters that reality and data show that we are?

In July, at the progressive conference Netroots Nation, the film was screened followed by an all-white panel discussion. I remember feeling frustrated at the time, both because of the lack of people of color on the panel and because I had planned on seeing the film before learning about a march led by activists from Hands Up United and the Organization for Black Struggle. There was a moment in which I felt like I had to choose between my Blackness and my abortion experience. I chose my Black womanhood and marched with local activists, who under the Black Lives Matter banner have centered intersectionality. My hope is that soon I won’t have to make these decisions in the fight for abortion rights; a fight where people of color are the backbone whether we’re featured prominently in films or not.

The film highlights the violent rhetoric anti-choice protesters use to demean those seeking abortions, but doesn’t dissect the deeply racist and abhorrent comments, often hurled at patients of color by older white protesters. These racist and sexist comments are what fuel much of the stigma that allows discriminatory laws, such as those banning so-called race- and sex-selective abortions, to flourish.

As I finished the documentary, I remembered a quote Chelsea, a white Christian woman who chose an abortion when her baby’s skull stopped developing above the eyes, said: “Knowing you’re not alone is the most important thing.”

In her case, her pastor supported her and her husband’s decision and prayed over them at the church. She seemed at peace with her decision to seek abortion because she had the support system she desired. Perhaps upon seeing the film, some will realize that all pregnancy decisions can be quite isolating and lonely, and we should show each other a bit more compassion when making them.

My hope is that the film reaches others who’ve had abortions and reminds them that they aren’t alone, whether they see themselves truly represented or not. That we who choose abortion are normal, loved, and supported. And that’s the main point of the film, isn’t it?

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is available in theaters in select cities and will be available on HBO in 2017.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Campaign Says Glitch Led to Selection of White Nationalist Leader As Delegate

Ally Boguhn

The prominent white supremacist has since resigned. And on the Democratic side, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders registered their objections to the Obama administration's immigration raids.

A “database error” this week supposedly led Donald Trump’s campaign to select a white nationalist leader to its California delegate list, and the Democratic presidential candidates are speaking out about the Obama administration’s planned immigration raids.

Trump Campaign: Picking White Nationalist Who Wrote Book Calling For Deportation of All People of Color as Delegate was a “Database Error”

Trump’s campaign added William Johnson, leader of white nationalist group the American Freedom Party, to his California delegate list after a supposed computer glitch.

Johnson applied to the Trump campaign and was chosen from a list of the presumptive Republican nominee’s delegates submitted to the California secretary of state’s office. In California, presidential candidates choose Republican delegatesnot the party.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Johnson, in an email to Mother Jones on Tuesday, confirmed that he had been chosen by the Trump campaign, expressing excitement about the opportunity. “I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views,” Johnson told the publication. “I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks claimed that the inclusion of Williams was no more than a glitch after the campaign had rejected the white nationalist leader. “Yesterday the Trump campaign submitted its list of California delegates to be certified by the Secretary of State of California,” Hicks said in a statement to the Washington Post. “A database error led to the inclusion of a potential delegate that had been rejected and removed from the campaign’s list in February 2016.”

Johnson on Wednesday told the Associated Press he had resigned from his role as a delegate. “I was naive,” Johnson told AP about his application. “I thought people wouldn’t notice, and if they did notice I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

He noted that Trump’s policy positions lined up with those he supported.

“[Trump] wants to build the wall [along the border with Mexico]. He wants to cut off illegal immigration, and he wants to cut back on foreign trade, bring jobs back to America,” Johnson said. “We believe Donald Trump will help lead the country in a proper direction.”

Johnson gained notoriety as a self-identified “white nationalist” whose PAC, American National Super PAC, was responsible for robocalls this year in Iowa featuring another white nationalist, Jared Taylor. “I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America,” Taylor said in the robocall according to Talking Points Memo. “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Johnson wrote a book in 1985, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, calling “to deport all nonwhites as soon as possible” from the the United States:

In 1985, under the pseudonym James O. Pace, Johnson wrote the book Amendment to the Constitution: Averting the Decline and Fall of America. In it, he advocates the repeal of the 14th and 15th amendments and the deportation of almost all nonwhite citizens to other countries. Johnson further claimed that racial mixing and diversity caused social and cultural degeneration in the United States. He wrote: “We lose our effectiveness as leaders when no one relies on us or can trust us because of our nonwhite and fractionalized nature. … [R]acial diversity has given us strife and conflict and is enormously counterproductive.”

Johnson’s solution to this problem was to deport all nonwhites as soon as possible. Anybody with any “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” or more than one-eighth “Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood” would be deported under the Pace Amendment.

As late as Monday, Trump’s campaign had expressed confidence about their delegate selection before controversy broke out over the addition of Williams. “We believe that our delegation represents the economic and grassroots community diversity of California. We feel very good about it,” Tim Clark, Trump’s California strategist, told the Sacramento Bee that day.

The campaign reportedly corresponded with Johnson on Monday.

Other notable figures selected as delegates for Trump include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal.   

Democratic Presidential Candidates Speak Out Against Obama Administration’s Immigration Raids

Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), condemned the Obama administration’s coming immigration raids after news broke this week of an upcoming sweep.

U.S. immigration officials will conduct a monthlong series of deportation raids targeting undocumented families from Central America, Reuters reported on Thursday, in what will likely be “the largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families” by the Obama administration this year.

“I oppose the painful and inhumane business of locking up and deporting families who have fled horrendous violence in Central America and other countries. Sending these people back into harm’s way is wrong,” Sanders said in a statement posted to his campaign’s website Thursday. “I urge President Obama to use his executive authority to protect families by extending Temporary Protective Status for those who fled from Central America.”

Clinton said she was “against large scale raids that tear families apart and sow fear in communities” and that “we should not be taking kids and families from their homes in the middle of the night.”

The candidates have spoken out against the Obama administration’s ongoing raids, showing particular concern for the deportation of children. Advocates, however, say that the presidential candidates have not done enough to tackle the issue.

What Else We’re Reading

Priests for Life President Frank Pavone compared the presidential election to a choice between killing ten people and killing 100 people. 

Clinton proposed allowing “people 55 or 50 and up” buy in to Medicare.

Trump supporter Sarah Palin spoke out against Trump’s assertion that he would change the GOP’s abortion platform while speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “I don’t want the platform to change,” said Palin, adding that she “respect[s] the “culture of life that will be built upon the pro-life views the majority of Republicans hold.” 

The Nation’s Ari Berman wrote that “voter suppression is the only way Donald Trump can win” the White House.

Leaders from extremist groups such as the Family Research Council, National Right to Life, and the National Organization for Marriage are reportedly still unsure about whether they will back Trump now that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has left the race for the Republican nomination.

The Washington Post examined how the rise of Donald Trump may jeopardize the Congressional seats of other Republicans running down the ballot. One of those legislators could be Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) who notoriously introduced the failed “Blunt Amendment” to exempt any employer with a moral objection from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.

Former KKK leader David Duke tweeted that Donald Trump should ask him to join his ticket as vice president, claiming the move would be good “life insurance.”

Minnesota Republicans endorsed a candidate for the state’s 2nd congressional district seat who once claimed that women are “simply ignorant … of the important issues in life” because they are concerned about their reproductive health.

Don’t miss The Black Belt, a short film from the Intercept. It highlights voting rights in Alabama—which requires a photo ID at the polls—after the state closed 31 DMV locations that were primarily located in communities with large Black populations. 

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!