The Heidi Group, an anti-choice organization, was awarded a $1.6 million contract to provide family planning services through the Healthy Texas Women program.
The organization plans to provide “comprehensive health care through a network of subcontractors around Texas,” according to the organization’s application, but the group appears to be funneling taxpayer dollars to fake clinics, also known as anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.
One of these fake clinics listed as a subcontractor by the Heidi Group, Life Choices Medical Clinic, is also listed as a subcontractor by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network (TPCN), a nonprofit organization that distributes state funds to “alternative to abortion services.”
Carol Everett, founder and CEO of the group, is also a member of the Women’s Health Advisory Committee, which advises the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) on the Healthy Texas Women program.
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Texas state officials on September 13 trumpeted the success of the state’s revamped family planning program during a state senate committee hearing, while lawmakers raised concerns about the Heidi Group.
State Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) said during the committee hearing that there “has been a lot of controversy as to whether or not this particular organization was qualified” for state funds. Rodríguez questioned whether the Heidi Group received the family planning contract prior to submitting an application to be a Medicaid provider.
Lesley French, associate commissioner of HHSC, told the committee that the the Heidi Group had submitted an application, but she was “not aware” of whether the organization had offered family planning services prior to being awarded the contract.
“They were going through that process for Medicaid, and so they had submitted their Medicaid application before we considered their application and awarded them a contract,” French said.
It was never made clear if the Heidi Group had been approved as a Medicaid provider before it was given the contract. The Heidi Group is an approved Medicaid provider and Healthy Texas Women provider, according to the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership database.
Advocacy groups have been highly critical of the state’s contract with the Heidi Group.
Progress Texas, a progressive nonprofit, requested that the state investigate the possibility of wrongdoing, in an August letter sent to the Texas State Auditor’s Office.
Lucy Stein, advocacy director for Progress Texas, wrote that the state should investigate “whether the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) violated state law by misusing government funds to award the Heidi Group, a known anti-abortion organization that provides no health care services, $1.6 million dollars to provide women’s health care services.”
Reproductive rights advocates last week delivered to the Committee on Health and Human Services a petition signed by 5,455 Texans demanding the state defund the Heidi Group and remove Everett from the women’s health committee.
Blake Rocap, legislative counsel at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a statement that Texas is “continuing to play politics with reproductive health care” by excluding health-care providers such as Planned Parenthood.
“It is outrageous that the state’s family planning dollars are going to fund anti-abortion organizations while Texans continue to face barriers accessing contraception and medical care, and more women are dying after childbirth,” Rocap said.
Everett told the Texas Observer that the Heidi Group will facilitate the Healthy Texas Women program family planning providers to reach women in rural areas. “I am really trying to help those women,” Everett said. “I am not getting paid out of this money. I’m not making any money out of this.”
“The Heidi Group is not a health care provider and its list of subcontractors includes a clinic that has closed and crisis pregnancy centers that provide biased and misleading information and shame women for having abortions,” Rocap said.
Texas Medicaid Funding Fake Clinics
The Heidi Group’s application lists 20 clinics operated by 16 organizations as subcontractors. Among the organizations listed as providers are two fake clinics, according to documents obtained by the Texas Observer.
Six clinics provided the dates that their Medicaid provider applications were submitted, and of those, only three applications were submitted in 2016.
Some of these subcontractors seem to stretch the definition of approved Title XIX family planning clinics, as defined by the Texas Medicaid Providers services handbook.
To be enrolled in Texas Medicaid, family planning agencies must have “an established record of performance in the provision of both medical and educational counseling of family planning services as verified through client records, established clinic hours, and clinic site locations.”
Rocap told Rewire that it appears that HHSC “just ignored the definition” of family planning clinics when it approved the Heidi Group contract.
“The problem is that we have these rules that say in order to be qualified as a family planning specialty clinic you have to have a record of doing it,” Rocap said. “And [The Heidi Group] hasn’t.”
“Your rules are only as good as the people enforcing them, and if they are willing to just look the other way and not care, then there is a problem with the way the program is being administered,” Rocap said.
The Community Wellness Clinic is an approved Healthy Texas Women provider, but is listed as not providing women’s health and family planning services, according to the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership database.
There were no records for Health Now Family Practice in the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership database.
Pflugerville OB/GYN, another organization listed by the the Heidi Group as a family planning provider, no longer provides family planning services and has closed its clinic, according to reporting by the Texas Observer.
Life Choices Medical Clinic was one of the clinics the Heidi Group listed as a provider. The organization’s mission is to “save the lives of unborn children, minister to women and men facing decisions involving pregnancy and sexual health, and touch each life with the love of Christ.”
The clinic’s address is identical to the address listed on the Heidi Group’s award.
Life Choices Medical Clinic offers pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and well-woman exams. However, the clinic does not provide abortion care referrals or contraception, birth control, or family planning services.
The organization applied to be a Medicaid provider on February 29, according to the Heidi Group’s application.
Charity Farrar, the executive director of Life Choices Medical Clinic, told Pregnancy Help News that the organization is raising money to build a medical facility and offer services including prenatal care, with the goal of replacing Planned Parenthood.
“My ultimate goal: if I can’t legislate Planned Parenthood out of existence, I will make them irrelevant by taking away all their patients,” Farrar said.
Life Choices Medical Clinic is also a subcontractor of TPCN, according to documents obtained through an information request by Rewire.
Life Choices Medical Clinic had an application pending with TPCN in September 2014 and October 2014, and was listed as a TPCN subcontractor service provider in November 2014, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission documents.
Life Choices Medical Clinic, previously known as Agape Pregnancy Help Center, reported private donation totals of $331,013 in 2012, $273,685 in 2013, and $292,073 in 2014, according to the organization’s 990 tax forms.
Wise Choices Pregnancy Resource Center, whose stated mission is to “empower women to make life affirming choices,” is among the organizations listed by the Heidi Group as a family planning provider.
The organization lists only pregnancy testing and ultrasounds as available medical services, and explicitly states that it does not “offer annual exams, birth control devices, mid-life services, abortion services or referrals, mammograms or breast screenings, in-vitro fertilization services, pre or post-natal care, treatment of infertility, or treatment of reproductive tract infections.”
There were no records for Wise Choices Pregnancy Center available in the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership database.
The Brazos Medical Associates is also among the family planning providers in the Heidi Group’s network, and illustrates how state lawmakers have in some cases replaced comprehensive reproductive health care and family planning with anti-choice alternatives.
Hope Pregnancy Center, a fake clinic, purchased the facility in 2014. The organization now uses the building to offer testing for sexual transmitted infections, and shares office space with the Coalition for Life, another anti-choice organization.
Brazos Medical Associates, which provides a variety of gynecologic and reproductive health care services, is located in that very same clinic.
Dr. Haywood Robinson, who founded Brazos Medical Associates with his wife, Dr. Noreen Johnson, is a former abortion provider and outspoken anti-choice activist. Robinson in 2010 was involved with the Radiance Foundation’s billboard advertising campaign in Texas to promote the idea of the anti-choice “black genocide” myth.
“It’s more than a little sad that this is what passes for health care,” Rocap said. “They’re just making it up as they go along, and it’s replacing actual clinics that were providing health care.”