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State cancels health contracts with anti-abortion Heidi Group

An anti-abortion group that continuously failed to provide reproductive health services to the number of patients it told the state it could is getting its contracts terminated — and is facing an investigation by Texas’ health agency over questionable billing.

Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials said in an email Friday that “it has become clear that the Heidi Group is unable to come into compliance” and that the organization would no longer be part of the state’s Family Planning Program or the Healthy Texas Women program as of Dec. 11.

On top of that, the agency is demanding the Heidi Group pay back $29,431 in costs it incurred and its investigative unit, the Office of the Inspector General, is looking into $1.1 million in billed costs. The inspector general will determine whether the group needs to pay back the funds.

The Round Rock-based Heidi Group promotes alternatives to abortion to low-income women. The organization, led by abortion opponent Carol Everett, has previously described its mission as “promoting life-affirming hope and dignity to girls, women, and their families seeking self-sufficiency.” The group helps coordinate reproductive health services through 22 clinics scattered around Texas, including in Arlington, Laredo, McAllen, San Antonio and Tyler.

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During fiscal year 2017, the Heidi Group projected it could serve 50,610 people in the Healthy Texas Women program, which provides services such as pregnancy testing, disease screenings and counseling to low-income women ages 18-44 — but it actually only served 2,327.

The same thing happened with the Family Planning Program, where beneficiaries are eligible for birth control, pregnancy tests, counseling on birth spacing and screening for cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. Last year, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission cut the Heidi Group’s contract under the program by $4.1 million after failing to serve the target number of patients. The Heidi Group initially aimed to serve 17,895 women over one year but only wound up serving 1,029.

Despite this, state officials renewed the Heidi Group’s contracts for both health programs. But the agency reduced the Heidi Group’s Family Planning Program contract from $5.1 million to $2 million for failing to meet its target for clients served for a second time in fiscal year 2018. The same happened for the group under Healthy Texas Women, with the state reducing its funding from about $1.6 million to $1.2 million. Despite these issues, the Health and Human Services Commission recently renewed the Heidi Group’s contract for fiscal year 2019, when the Heidi Group said it expected to serve more than 40,000 patients.

Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in an email Friday that the agency worked with the Heidi Group to help make improvements through various reviews and site visits but to no avail. The agency noted “substantial deficiencies in the areas of contract compliance, service administration, and financial and administrative management of both contracts.”

“We have determined that the Heidi Group is unable to meet the standards of a successful contractor with us,” Williams said. “Contract termination was in the best interest of the state and the clients we serve.”

While the contracts are being terminated, Williams, said that the state will not have to recoup the value of the multimillion-dollar contracts entirely since services are billed along the way as expenses are incurred.

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Williams noted in her email that there are still thousands of health providers under both programs that can serve patients. She said 2,900 providers billed under the Healthy Texas Women program.

The agency’s decision to contract with the Heidi Group has endured criticism from reproductive rights groups since day one. Reproductive rights groups have repeatedly questioned why the agency would allow a non health provider to be part of the program if they don’t have any experience caring for patients. Some have said it was a means to spite Planned Parenthood.

Aimee Arrambide, executive director of abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in a news release that the Heidi Group “was never remotely qualified” to provide care and that the tactic showed how “the state went to extremes to withhold funds from qualified providers in order to award undeserved millions of taxpayer dollars to an ideological, anti-choice organization with ties to fake women’s health centers.”

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.