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Investigators demand thousands of documents at abortion clinics

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  • A sign at a Planned Parenthood Clinic is pictured in Oklahoma City on Friday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas » Continuing a growing state crackdown on Planned Parenthood, Texas health officials Thursday demanded thousands of documents, including patient records and clinical notes, from the organization’s abortion clinics and health centers across Texas.

In surprise morning visits to Planned Parenthood offices in San Antonio, Dallas and the Houston area, investigators delivered written requests for records going back as far as 2010 from at least 10 of the organization’s facilities.

Investigators said they wanted the documents in hand within 24 hours.

Planned Parenthood officials called it an unprecedented fishing expedition and a continuation of political meddling by Republican state officials who oppose the organization’s role as a leading abortion provider.

But in a letter accompanying the subpoenas, investigators with the state Health and Human Services Commission said they had authority to examine allegations of potential fraud involving Medicaid payments.

The agency didn’t specify any allegations in its demand for documents, which included copies of patient appointment books and sign-in sheets, contracts with billing and medical testing companies and a roster of all employees — including home addresses, phone numbers and salaries.

State officials wouldn’t discuss details of the investigation, but two people with knowledge of the Thursday action, but who aren’t authorized to speak publicly about it, said the demand for documents was related to suspicions of misspent Medicaid money. By law, money from the state and federal program cannot be spent for abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials said investigators will find nothing incriminating in the organization’s reimbursements for cancer screenings, HIV tests, contraceptives and other health services.

“Not one dime of government funds” was spent on abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities in Texas, said Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which includes Austin.

“Planned Parenthood complies with every state law and regulation,” Lambrecht said at a Thursday afternoon news conference in Austin.

Other officials said they were shocked at the number of documents sought.

“The breadth and depth of what was requested this morning was unprecedented,” said Sarah Wheat, a Planned Parenthood official in Austin. “Today’s visits were clearly politically motivated. We’re all pretty surprised by how far the (state) is willing to go to try to shut down Planned Parenthood health centers.”

Planned Parenthood lawyers were working to comply with the state’s request while also seeking “every legal recourse to protect the confidentiality and the privacy of our patients and staff,” Lambrecht said.

Thursday’s action came three days after state health officials moved to drop Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid health care provider over undercover videos depicting the organization’s fetal tissue practices.

Republicans and abortion opponents have said the videos show Planned Parenthood officials condoning practices that violate two laws — one against the sale of fetal tissue to researchers, the other barring changes to abortion methods so the tissue could be procured.

Planned Parenthood and Democratic supporters have said the videos, surreptitiously shot by abortion opponents, were heavily edited to give the false impression of misconduct. The law allows clinics to be reimbursed for the cost of procuring tissue for researchers, and no abortion practices were changed to collect intact body parts, the organization has said.

On Monday, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s lead investigator sent letters informing all of the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliates that they were being dropped as a Medicaid health care provider.

“Earlier this year, you committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video that reveal repeated program violations and breach the minimum standards of care required of a Medicaid enrollee,” Inspector General Stuart Bowen Jr. said in the letters.

Planned Parenthood officials indicated they will fight the move, arguing that the state doesn’t have the authority to exclude the organization from a federal program.

On Thursday, Bowen sent investigators to deliver the demands for documents, including three who arrived at a Planned Parenthood facility in San Antonio shortly after 9 a.m. The investigators declined to answer questions as they entered and exited the building.

Planned Parenthood’s Texas affiliates received $3.1 million from Medicaid in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, state numbers showed. Because 90 percent of the money came from the federal government, Texas accounted for almost $310,000 of that total.

According to the organization, it provided health care to almost 13,000 low-income Texans under Medicaid in 2014.

Staff writer James Barragan contributed to this report.

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