Texas Subpoenas Patient Records From Planned Parenthood

Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General (HHSC IG) officials used judge-less subpoenas to demand Planned Parenthood records of Medicaid patients whose aborted fetuses were used for research.

Planned Parenthood claims state employees showed up unannounced at the group’s facilities in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio Thursday demanding five years worth of records be turned over by Friday morning, according to Mother Jones.

The subpoenas, signed by the HHSC IG’s Principal Deputy Inspector General Frank Bryan, were delivered three days after the Texas legislature removed Planned Parenthood as a recipient of Medicaid funding following the undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal part sales.

Congress delegated to many federal and state agencies authority to use administrative subpoenas to obtain records — including medical records— and other documents bureaucrats deem “relevant.” Because no prior approval by a judge is required, the administrative subpoenas skirt the Fourth Amendment “probable cause” standard.

Planned Parenthood’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and its Texas office did not return calls for comment. Sarah Wheat, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ vice president for community affairs, told the Austin American-Statesman the “breadth and depth of what was requested was unprecedented.”

Chris Cutrone, spokesman for the HHSC IG, declined to comment “on any oversight activities or investigative activities,” but he said the office has broad statutory authority to collect records from health care providers.

“We do have subpoena power,” Cutrone said. “It’s something that the legislature gave us. We do collect documents from providers, so that’s something that we do.”

The section of Texas law cited in the subpoena says, “The Office of Inspector General may request that the commissioner or the commissioner’s designee approve the issuance by the office of a subpoena in connection with an investigation conducted by the office. If the request is approved, the office may issue a subpoena to compel the attendance of a relevant witness or the production, for inspection or copying, of relevant evidence that is in this state.”

Americans generally assume the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects their medical records, but HIPAA makes broad exceptions for administrative subpoenas, as TheDCNF reported earlier this week.

States often model subpoena powers on the federal government’s laws. Congress has vested in dozens of agencies more than 300 administrative subpoena authorities, according to a 2002 Department of Justice report.

A Dallas doctor’s office took the Drug Enforcement Administration to court after the DEA demanded 35 patients’ medical records. A federal judge recently ruled in that case, U.S. vs. Zadeh, that DEA had the right to peruse medical records, without a judge’s approval and without specific allegations against the medical practice.

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