Texas investigators said a pro-life organization must repay $1.6 million in state funding for “serious contractural violations.” But the group’s founder said the report contains numerous errors and called the state’s actions a “smear campaign” intended to undercut services to low-income women.
The state awarded The Heidi Group millions of dollars in 2016 under a program called Healthy Texas Women, which began after former President Barack Obama cut federal dollars to the state in retaliation for its defunding of Planned Parenthood. The program provides healthcare and abortion-free family planning to more than 220,000 low-income women.
The inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) accused The Heidi Group of mismanaging taxpayer funds, overpaying subcontractors and some employees, and failing to provide oversight and contracts to its providers. But Carol Everett, The Heidi Group’s founder and CEO, said the state has targeted her organization for its evangelical and pro-life beliefs: “We’ve had that big label on our head from the start.”
Everett denied the group misused taxpayer funds and said she has receipts, contracts, and budgets that HHSC signed and approved showing they committed no wrongdoing. She also said the inspector general never interviewed her before issuing the report.
The report covered a seven-month period from September 2017 through March 2018 and said the severity of issues it found warranted an expanded investigation. It includes allegations such as “subcontractor expenses were paid without proper oversight” and “professional medical services were significantly overpaid for the level and quality of services provided.”
The state cut back on The Heidi Group’s funding and then canceled its contract last year, citing reports that the group had failed to meet its projected number of patients served during its initial years of operation. Last year, Everett attributed the low numbers to “little to no guidance” from the state.
Everett said The Heidi Group has served tens of thousands of people within its network of 34 providers but has gone back and forth with the state about what paperwork it has to submit to account for those patients.
“It has been very confusing,” Everett said. “Everything has been a fight. You can’t expect someone to do something if you don’t explain how to do it.”
She added that she had sent in all of the necessary documentation to HHSC by April 2019, but the inspector general did not consider those submissions when preparing its report.
“I may be taking all the arrows right now, and we have endured vicious attacks, but pro-life groups are capable of this important work, and they will continue to do it,” Everett said.
Joe Pojman, executive director for the Texas Alliance for Life, hopes that message comes through despite The Heidi Group’s challenges with the state.
Healthy Texas Women provided care for 172,023 low-income women last year, a 30 percent increase from the year prior. Providers cannot provide abortions or have an affiliation with an abortion facility.
“The program has had sensational success in meeting the needs of low-income women,” Pojman said. “It has done far more than Planned Parenthood was ever doing for Texas women.”