The Oklahoma State Department of Health's stated reasons for ending Planned Parenthood's contract to provide services for low-income women and children "don’t appear to be accurate," according to a report by the nonpartisan Oklahoma Policy Institute.
Oklahoma administers its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food, health care and breastfeeding instructions to low-income women and babies, through 12 contractors. Planned Parenthood operates three WIC clinics in Tulsa County and serves 3,000 people through the program each month. Following a failed attempt by Republican state lawmakers to end Planned Parenthood's contract with the program, the Oklahoma Health Department unexpectedly announced in early October that it had terminated Planned Parenthood's contract.
A spokesperson for the department told the Tulsa World that the decision to single out Planned Parenthood, which has been the largest WIC provider in Tulsa County for 18 years, was not related to abortion politics.
"The state Health Department has denied that the contract's discontinuation was politically motivated and presented data showing that the Planned Parenthood WIC clinics have a relatively high cost per participant and have had a decrease in case load," the spokesperson said. "It also produced an audit finding fault with some of Planned Parenthood's billing practices."
After investigating the department's concerns, the Oklahoma Policy Institute determined that they were unfounded. In three out of four quarters from July 2011 to June 2012, Planned Parenthood WIC clinics actually outperformed all of the other WIC clinics in Tulsa County in terms of caseload, and at least four other WIC providers in the county have higher costs per patient than Planned Parenthood does.
OPI also found in its research that the routine annual audit of Planned Parenthood clinics flagged a far lower percentage of questionable billing information than the audit of at least one other local WIC provider, but Planned Parenthood was the only provider whose contract was terminated. "Another Tulsa County clinic’s audit revealed that 40 percent of their contract was flagged as potentially questionable by auditors, far higher than the 18 percent for Planned Parenthood," the report says.
Terry Bryce, the director of Oklahoma's WIC program, said OPI's numbers are inaccurate because they did not include a major WIC contractor in their comparisons. "They've done some kind of quarterly calculation, and they're counting what Planned Parenthood has done against the average of other clinics, but they did not include the Tulsa City County Health Department in any of their numbers here, which is certainly an unfair comparison," he said.
Bryce also disputed the notion that the Health Department's issues with Planned Parenthood's audits were related to questionable billing information in their contract. "We could not get them to respond to the audit questions after a couple deadlines they did not meet," he said.
A family of three in Oklahoma would have to earn $35,000 a year or less to qualify for the WIC program. The Tulsa World reported that some low-income mothers are already facing long waiting lists at other providers following the news that Planned Parenthood is forced to close its WIC clinics.
"For OSDH to unilaterally and abruptly terminate WIC services to thousands of women, and to have done so as cavalierly as it now seems, is deeply troubling," OPI wrote in its report. "They owe the public, and especially the mothers whose access to WIC is now in jeopardy, a forthright explanation."