Faced with allegations of improper billing practices, a Planned Parenthood affiliate agreed to settle a government lawsuit and will pay back more than $1 million to the Medicaid program, the Texas attorney general’s office said Wednesday.
An investigation revealed that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc. — which serves parts of southeastern Texas and a couple of parishes in eastern Louisiana — overbilled the state-federal Medicaid program.
Planned Parenthood called the allegations baseless and said the group ended the case only as a practical matter.
“Continuing this litigation in the hostile environment for women’s health would have ensured a lengthy and costly process that would have distracted our energies and required us to share the private medical information of thousands of women,” the group said in a statement. “We are ending this lawsuit in order to devote all of our time and energy to delivering high-quality, affordable health care.”
In the settlement, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast agreed to pay back $1.4 million, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said. The money will be split among the state and federal governments and a whistle-blower, Karen Reynolds, who filed the original lawsuit on July 30, 2009. The federal government will get about $700,000, the state about $500,000, and Reynolds about $200,000.
Reynolds, a former health center assistant at Planned Parenthood’s Lufkin clinic, based her allegations on “direct, independent, and personal knowledge” she learned during her employment from October 1999 to February 2009, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast leaders “trained and instructed the employees at its twelve regional clinics to bill the government for medical services that were not medically necessary, to bill the government for medical services that were not actually provided, to bill the government for services that are not covered by Medicaid, and to falsify information in patient medical charts.”
Planned Parenthood denied all the allegations in a 2012 answer to the lawsuit.
Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions in the U.S., and Republican officials in Texas, including Abbott, have a history of discord.
When the Legislature renewed the expiring Women’s Health Program in 2011, legislators added stronger limits restricting abortion providers and their affiliates. In February 2012, the state health department encoded the restriction into a rule that effectively banned all Planned Parenthood affiliates from the program.
Planned Parenthood responded by suing Texas in federal court, arguing that the state improperly banned its clinics from a program that provides contraceptive and other health care to tens of thousands of low-income women who don’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid. The case is pending.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast announced last week that it will be closing clinics in Bryan, Huntsville and Lufkin, where Reynolds worked, because of budget cuts and “persistent attacks on women’s health.”
Abbott, who is running for governor, said the latest recovery of money is another action to eliminate fraud in the Medicaid system. His office has recovered more than $1 billion dollars since 2002, he said.
“Texas’ ability to help the poor is hampered by actions like those Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was accused of committing,” Abbott said in a statement. “Overbilling the taxpayer-funded Medicaid system is like taking health care money from those who need it most and sticking it in their own pockets. Actions like this harm the very people who need access to health care.”