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article imageTexas health official forced out after Planned Parenthood study

By Megan Hamilton     Feb 20, 2016 in Politics
Austin - A top health official in Texas is stepping down after co-authoring a study that angered Republican leaders because it suggested cuts to Planned Parenthood are restricting women's access to healthcare statewide.
Rick Allgeyer, director of research at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission faced potential disciplinary action for the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), CBS News reports.
The study criticized the state's women's health program and also noted that by excluding Planned Parenthood from the family planning program, legislators may have made it more difficult for women to access long-acting birth control, The Texas Tribune reports.
It revealed that the removal of Planned Parenthood caused a 35 percent drop in claims for long-acting contraceptives and led to a 1.9 percent increase in childbirths paid via Medicaid, which insures the poor and disabled at the federal and state level.
State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) asserted that it was inappropriate for state employees to involve themselves in a study she claimed was biased and unsound. Based on Nelson's concerns about the study, the health commission ordered its own review of the women's health program.
The Texas Women's Health Program removed Planned Parenthood in 2013, as a way to slap it on the wrist for providing abortions, Jezebel notes. When that happened, the NEJM noted that the state dismantled "a safety net that took decades to build and could not easily be recreated."
Nelson is one of the architects of Texas Women's Health Program, and she argued the study is biased because it was partially funded by the Susan T. Buffett Foundation, which supports Planned Parenthood. She was upset that Allgeyer and one other state employee were co-authors of the study, ABC News reports.
"It's one thing for an agency to provide data upon request," she said. "It's quite another to be listed as a 'co-author' on a deeply flawed and highly political report. I've communicated strong concerns to the agency. This should have not happened, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Bryan Black, a spokesman for the agency, said it agrees with Nelson and was unaware of the study until it was published.
Republicans who helped oust Planned Parenthood were also upset by the study and are demanding an explanation from Texas Health Commissioner Chris Traylor regarding why Allgeyer and another state employee took part in the study, CBS News reports. Black did not discuss the status of program specialist Imelda Flores-Vazques. She worked under Allgeyer and was hired by the agency in 2014. According to Black, neither state employee informed superiors they were participating in the study. Black said this is a violation at the agency, where 55,000 people work.
The e Tribune reported it's also against the agency's policy for employees to "moonlight," or work part-time outside of the agency without permission, as Black said in an email.
He noted Allgeyer is eligible for retirement and is retiring from the agency, effective March 31.
Allgeyer also "broke policy by working on the study during his workday," Black said. "He should have never been putting in time on this study during the normal business day, he was paid to perform state business."
The Women's Health Program was 90 percent federally funded through Medicaid. It was replaced by the fully state-funded Texas Women's Health Program in 2013. Both programs offered services to Texas women between the ages of 18 to 44 whose incomes were at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
CBS attempted to contact Allgeyer, but he did not immediately respond.
Nelson claimed the study ignored other health services the state offers for women and added that more Texas women filed claims for long-acting contraceptives in 2014 than they did in 2012, when Planned Parenthood was still with the state program. She has written a letter to Traylor ordering his agency to review the study and provide analysis on Medicaid births.
She noted that while critical evaluation is necessary for good government, women shouldn't be misled into thinking services they need aren't available.
Austin Attorney Peter Schenkkan, who is also one of the study's authors, said he is disappointed that anyone would find the contributions inappropriate, ABC News reports.
"The first step of a public official should be to face the facts," he said. "Not to punish those who bring the facts to them." Schenkkan was lead counsel for Planned Parenthood when it was in court because of its exclusion from the state program.
The study shows the impact that "politically motivated" decisions can have, Planned Parenthood officials said.
"The truth hurts," said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. "Unfortunately for Texas officials, disliking a study doesn't make it not true."
The names of Allgeyer and Flores-Vazquez were at the top of the study, as were Schenkkan's and two University of Texas researchers. The researchers are studying the impact of women's health laws the Texas Legislature has passed in recent years. The Buffet Foundation doesn't play a role in their work, school researchers said.
In the same year that Texas omitted Planned Parenthood from state services, former Governor Rick Perry signed stringent abortion restrictions that caused clinics statewide to shut down. Those restrictions will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March as part of a key abortion rights case that is likely to impact similar measures adopted by other GOP-controlled states, ABC News reports.
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