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Did Texas Pre-Judge Planned Parenthood?

The state may have presumed the women’s health provider guilty of Medicaid fraud.

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In this July 28, 2015, file photo, Erica Canaut, center, cheers as she and other anti-abortion activists rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, to condemn the use in medical research of tissue samples obtained from aborted fetuses. Texas announced Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, that it was cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics following undercover videos of officials discussing fetal tissue, potentially triggering a legal fight like the one unfolding in neighboring Louisiana.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The saga surrounding Planned Parenthood took an odd turn on Thursday. Investigators with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) showed up unannounced at clinics in four cities. State health officials also served Planned Parenthood affiliates with subpoenas seeking patient and employee records. These moves appeared related to an investigation into whether the controversial women’s health provider has committed Medicaid fraud.

All that seems copacetic. But the day’s events were unusual for two reasons.

For one, the subpoenas the state sent to Planned Parenthood were incredibly wide-ranging. State officials are undoubtedly entitled—as part of a Medicaid fraud investigation—to medical records and personal information of Medicaid patients. But the state also sought names, salaries, home addresses, and home phone numbers for all Planned Parenthood employees. It’s not everyday you see the government subpoenaing the personal information for all employees of a private company. The Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal has an interesting story today examining whether the subpoenas go too far.

But the oddest part of the subpoenas was the timing.

They were sent three days after HHSC officials announced their intent to remove Planned Parenthood affiliates from the state’s Medicaid program. In notices of termination sent on Monday, state health officials asserted that Planned Parenthood had committed Medicaid fraud egregious enough to warrant expulsion from the program.

In their letters on Monday, HHSC also cited undercover videos made by an anti-abortion group that purport to show Planned Parenthood staffers selling fetal tissue. But those don’t really matter in this case. The videos concern abortion services, which are largely unrelated to the family planning services and cancer screenings Planned Parenthood provides to Medicaid recipients.

As I wrote earlier this week, Texas officials will have a very difficult time removing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid unless they can prove the group has committed Medicaid fraud. So, practically speaking, the bottom line is this: Either the state has evidence of Medicaid fraud by Planned Parenthood or it doesn’t. Everything else is just noise.

And Thursday’s subpoenas lead me to think state officials don’t have the goods—at least not yet.

More than that, it seems downright backward (if not unfair) for the state to declare Planned Parenthood guilty of Medicaid fraud—and then go looking for the evidence to back up that pronouncement. In this instance, there was no presumption of innocence.

Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune nails it with this analogy:

But it does seem like you would do the investigation and ask for the financial records before you shut everything down and put out a news release to brag about it.

Texas has apparently started a Department of Pre-Crime, like the fictional one depicted in Minority Report, the Philip K. Dick story that became a Steven Spielberg movie in 2002. Tom Cruise played a cop whose job was to arrest people who were about to commit crimes, which would be sort of a cool idea if you were always right.

Maybe the state of Texas has this one right. But it was curious to watch the order of things.

It sure looks like sloppy work. How do investigators justify reaching a conclusion before they’ve finished their investigation—and even before they’ve obtained relevant records?

It’s not yet clear if the state’s effort to boot Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid is a legitimate response to genuine Medicaid fraud or a political stunt. But the timing of Thursday’s subpoenas sure point to the latter.

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  • Rules of Blazon

    THIS is what a power-drunk, delusional, out-of-control, overreaching government looks like. Anyone who voted for ANY of the Republicans responsible for this inquisition should be horrified, and every single Republican officeholder involved with it ought to resign immediately, beginning with Greg Abbott.

  • Bodhisattva

    There is a little whiff of the jackbooted thug in this: nattily-dressed investigators showing up, waving subpoenas and demanding to look at all the employees’ personal information — “That doctor over there — what’s her home address?” There are probably some excellent criminal defense lawyers volunteering to help Planned Parenthood, hoping only to get a piece of the malicious prosecution damages.

  • WUSRPH

    When you live in the Wonderland which most Texas GOPers occupy “first the sentence and then the trial” is a very old idea. But what else could you expect from people who “can believe 12 impossible things before breakfast”.

    • Indiana Pearl

      Who does Stuart Bowen report to? Is this a wag-the-dog strategy to influence the Perry or Paxton cases?

  • ghhshirley

    This is what a Theocratic, Fascist state looks like.

  • John Johnson

    As opposed as I am to abortions, I find the state’s actions egregious. A case of getting the cart before the horse if there ever was one.

  • I approve. In the last two days we’ve seen Hillary lie to congress and the DOJ remains silent.
    We’ve seen Lois Lerner use the IRS against conservatives and the DOJ remains silent.
    I support any and all means to derail the democrat agenda against America.

    • Shawn

      Even if it’s through illegal actions? That doesn’t speak well of your agenda or that of the Republican Party.

  • Indiana Pearl

    Police state tactics . . .

  • I wouldn’t call doing what the democrats are doing “police state tactics.” I would call it what it is, “lying.”

    ” Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed in combat Thursday, shot in a firefight with Islamic State forces in Iraq, though he wasn’t serving in a combat role, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Friday.”

    http://www.stripes.com/news/carter-soldier-died-in-combat-in-iraq-but-not-in-a-combat-role-1.374827

    saying a Delta Team member killed in action was not KIA is lying.

    Saying the Benghazi attack was a video when it wasn’t and you knew it wasn’t is lying.

    Lying is standard fare for dems. They lie about voter fraud, Benghazi, Planned Parenthood, et al. It has been proven over and over.

    Let the personal attacks begin.

  • Indiana Pearl

    Next the Gestapo will snoop into yoir pharmacy records, your medicine cabinet, your phone records.

    • Obamacare is already there….socialism at its finest.

      Tocqueville:
      “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

      • Indiana Pearl

        I’ll bet you’ve never read a word of de Tocqueville. That’s why you continue to refer to him as “Tocquevillle.”

        • You would be wrong as usual. in the gin already?

          • Indiana Pearl

            Nope. Coffee right now, but gin will be my pre-dinner cocktail. If you drank a water glass of gin before every meal, you would be more coherent and not so fat.

          • Or maybe I could be incoherent 90% of the time…

          • Indiana Pearl

            100% fat.

          • 100% dumb

          • Indiana Pearl

            That’s Booksie!

          • Indiana Pearl

            A big improvement over your percentage at the moment . .

  • donuthin2

    Probably as objective as the hearings were.

  • dormand

    The root cause of all of these problems is that there was only a 5.4% turnout of registered voters in the last GOP primary.

    Low voter turnout sends a signal that the bar is set very low and that one does not have to have a significant amount of qualification to get elected.

    Read the paper or watch the evening news to see the embarrassing results.

    You have a goat roper putting his campaign volunteers on the state payroll at $180K each and a reversal of a decade old prohibition of public school cafeterias having deep fat fryers,

    If that does not motivate you to vote in the primary, nothing will.