Texas cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood's HIV prevention program
Blood collection tube with HIV test label' [Shutterstock]

Amid an ongoing battle over Planned Parenthood’s participation in the state Medicaid program, Texas health officials are cutting off funding to a Planned Parenthood affiliate for an HIV prevention program.

In a notice received by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast late Monday, an official with the Department of State Health Services informed the Houston-based provider that it would not renew its contract for HIV prevention services.

The long-standing grant, which funds HIV testing and prevention services, was set to expire on Dec. 31, according to the notice which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

“There will be no further renewals of this contract,” a DSHS official wrote in the notice to Planned Parenthood.

By ending Planned Parenthood’s contract, the state is cutting off almost $600,000 in annual funding, which the health care provider used for HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution and referral consultations.

Through the grant, which Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has received since 1988, the organization served individuals with HIV in five counties in the Houston area. Since 2014, the grant has funded more than 138,000 HIV tests and helped in identifying 1,182 people with HIV, according to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. No other Planned Parenthood affiliate is currently a recipient of the grant.

“I don’t know who else is going to fill that gap, and I don’t know if anyone can, frankly,” said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. “Every time the state cuts these programs in an attempt to score political points ... the true victims here are tens of thousands of women and men who no longer have access to health care that they need.”

It’s unclear whether the state will reallocate the funds to a different provider in the area. A health department spokesman on Tuesday said the state was “working with local health departments in the area to continue to provide these services.”

The state’s move to end the HIV prevention funding is the latest in its ongoing efforts to cut off taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood. It comes two months after Texas Republican leaders announced they would kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, the joint federal-state insurer of the poor.

That action was spurred by the release of undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials purportedly showing that the organization improperly harvested aborted fetal tissue for researchers — a claim the group has vehemently denied.

While the group's abortion services are separate from its health care programs, the flare-up propelled Republican leaders to call for defunding Planned Parenthood entirely, including the $3.1 million it receives through Medicaid in Texas to help low-income women access family planning and well-woman services.

In moving to cut the organization’s Medicaid funding, the state also cited unspecified allegations of Medicaid fraud. But despite its claims that it had proof of misconduct, state health officials have yet to deliver the final legal notice to defund the organization.

This year, lawmakers also wrote a provision into the budget prohibiting clinics affiliated with abortion providers from participating in the joint state-federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which provides cancer screenings for poor, uninsured women in Texas.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

By Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune