Monday, August 17, 2009

Spokesman-Review Publishes Misleading Story on Spokane Planned Parenthood Audit

Last Thursday, the Spokane Spokesman-Review published a report on the finalized audit of Planned Parenthood of Spokane (PPS) by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The audit was first publicized on this blog. As we reported, the audit included a repayment bill of $629,000 plus interest.

John Stucke, the Spokesman-Review reporter, was able to secure an interview with Washington State's Medicaid director, Douglas Porter. Whereas our report relied on the written report, Mr. Stucke's story relied heavily on his interview with Mr. Porter. It was, perhaps, not unreasonable for Mr. Stucke to trust Mr. Porter's explanations, but it turns out that resulting article was very confusing.

In the Spokesman Review piece, which was subsequently picked up and retransmitted by the wire services, Mr. Porter claimed that the audit primarily found that Planned Parenthood "required unnecessary office visits by its poorest patients."

"At Planned Parenthood," said Mr. Porter, "Medicaid [birth control] patients were coming in every month," instead of every 6 to 12 months.

What is odd, though, is that the written audit report makes no mention of this issue. Rather, it called out 5 categories of overbilling, only one of which pertained to office visits, and the issues there were billing certain types of visits, like picking up a prescription, under more lucrative billing codes, or billing for visits for which there existed no chart notes.

Mr. Stucke indicated to us that he did not press Mr. Porter on this apparent discrepancy between this part of his interview and the written report. We have contacted Mr. Porter's office ourselves, but have been redirected through the public disclosure office. We have been promised a response, and will report on on our findings if and when that response arrives.

Those familiar with Planned Parenthood's clinical practices would be surprised to hear claims that the organization was guilty of spending too much time with birth control clients. Critics have long charged that the organization hands out birth control "like they were chicklets", and one reason the abortion business is so popular with the young and promiscuous is because they are a quick, easy, and "non-judgmental" source of protection from the consequences of "weekend fun".

Any time a health care provider is accused by an insurer of billing too many office visits, they usually jump to a standard defense that "this is what proper health care requires" and accuse the insurer, public or private, of not paying for proper care. Even Planned Parenthood itself, never one to miss a rhetorical opportunity, failed to make this claim.

The Spokesman Review did correct one thing since we contacted them. They originally titled the piece: "Clinic overbilled Medicaid," as is still evident from the URL. We pointed out that Planned Parenthood of Spokane operates five separate clinics. The headline was changed to "Planned Parenthood overbilled Medicaid."

Another odd thing about the Spokesman-Review report was that, at the very end, it did report that Mr. Porter said the audit found that "drug prescriptions were being changed by unauthorized staff," and that Mr. Porter considered this to be of "equal" importance to the too-frequent-visit issue. Yet the newspaper only dedicated one more sentence to the issue, the last -- and least read -- line of the whole article.

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