AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, R, on Thursday directed state officials to begin looking for money to keep the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, even if the Obama administration revokes federal funding amid a fight over clinics affiliated with abortion providers.
“We’ll find the money,” Perry told reporters, shortly before he issued a letter directing Thomas Suehs, head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, to work with legislative leaders and identify money to keep the program going if federal funds are halted. “The state is committed to this program.”
Pulling that off will be no mean feat: The program costs about $40 million and the federal government currently covers 90% of that.
The health program provides care to about 130,000 low-income women statewide. It had been expected to close next week, when Texas begins enforcing a law passed last summer that bars state funding from clinics affiliated with abortion providers. The Obama administration has said it will stop funding the program because federal law requires women to be able to choose any qualified clinic.
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier countered that Texas has the right under federal law to determine qualified providers in the program.
The law is part of a long-running campaign by conservatives in the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature to shut down abortion providers by imposing strenuous regulations and cutting off state and federal funds for their non-abortion services. Perry and Republican state lawmakers specifically don’t want Planned Parenthood clinics, which treat 40% of the program’s patients, to get any state funding, even when that money is not spent on abortions.
That has created a legal standoff, with federal and state officials accusing each other of political extremism while poor women will be left without necessary health care. The Women’s Health Program serves women ages 18-44 earning less than $20,000 a year or less than $41,000 for a family of four.
Perry did not specify where the funding for the Women’s Health Program might be found. “We’ve got a multibillion-dollar budget, so we’ve got the ability to be flexible on where the money comes from,” he said after an event at Texas Republican Party headquarters.
His letter to Suehs noted officials have been discussing the possibility of making up lost federal funding in the Women’s Health Program for weeks.
The state Legislature is out of session and does not meet again until next year, but Frazier said the governor has the authority to redistribute available funds as he sees fit — and would not need to convene a special session.
Perry said he’s anxious to save the program after the Legislature last year cut funding for 160,000 women enrolled in it. In total, lawmakers slashed $83 million in funding for women’s health programs. It was not immediately clear what other areas would have to be scaled back to make funds available for the governor to keep his promise.