Texas cancels troubled contract with anti-abortion group

Posted at 7:33 AM, Oct 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-15 08:33:03-04

By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) – Texas is canceling $6 million in troubled contracts with an anti-abortion group hired to bolster women’s health services after Republican lawmakers cut off Planned Parenthood, and officials said Friday that more than $1 million in billings are under investigation.

The announcement ends a tumultuous two years of Texas in business with the Heidi Group, an evangelical nonprofit that started in the 1990s promoting alternatives to abortion. It was founded by Carol Everett, an influential conservative activist in the Texas Legislature, which has passed some of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the U.S. in recent years.

The Heidi Group was hired in 2016 to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women’s health like Planned Parenthood but don’t offer abortions. Last year, an Associated Press investigation found problems from the start, including the Heidi Group coming nowhere close to serving 50,000 women as promised.

Despite the troubles, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission continued extending contracts to the group, but now the agency said it has referred $1.1 million in billings to investigators and are seeking repayment of $29,000 in unallowable costs.

In a letter to Everett dated Friday, state health officials said the Heidi Group didn’t provide documentation “to prove the costs existed” or that amounts charged for clinic overhead and services were appropriate. The state funds are intended to provide breast exams, contraception and cancer screenings.

Everett did not immediately return a phone message or email seeking comment.

“We worked with the Heidi Group over time on its performance, and we have determined that the Heidi Group is unable to meet the standards of a successful contractor with us. Contract termination was in the best interest of the state and the clients we serve,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Texas lawmakers cut off funding to abortion providers 2011. More than 80 family planning clinics in the state closed after the decision, a third of which were affiliates of Planned Parenthood.

After booting Planned Parenthood and abortion providers, Texas launched a new network of health providers called Healthy Texas Women. State health officials said more than 2,900 providers billed the program last year, up from 1,500 in 2016. Critics argued that the program remains deficient and hasn’t filled the void.

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