Texas: Evangelical women's health group owes state $1.5M

Texas investigators say an anti-abortion group that has come under fire for failing to fulfill its promise to provide health services to thousands of low-income Texas women owes the state more than $1.5 million for inflated or unallowed expense payments

The office of the health inspector general announced Thursday that it had uncovered "serious contractual violations" and was expanding its probe of the Heidi Group, an evangelical nonprofit that started promoting alternatives to abortion in the 1990s, the Houston Chronicle reported. It was founded by Carol Everett, an influential conservative activist in the Texas Legislature, which has passed some of the country's toughest anti-abortion laws in recent years.

A copy of the investigation report obtained by the newspaper shows that forensic accountants found the group had paid medical providers hundreds of thousands in extra fees, had overspent on payroll and fringe benefits, and had expensed thousands of dollars in prohibited costs on things such as food, gift cards, clothing and retail membership fees.

The inquiry covered a seven-month period, from September 2017 to March 2018.

An Associated Press investigation found that the group came nowhere close to meeting its promise to serve 50,000 women.

When the group's clinics started falling short of their goals, officials were slow to move money to higher performing providers.

Representatives for the Heidi Group swiftly disputed the findings, contending that the payments had been permitted and budgeted from the start by the Health and Human Services Commission.

"Everything we did was according to the contract," CEO Carol Everett said.

Last year, Texas canceled millions of dollars in troubled contracts with the organization.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com