August 13, 2015 — The Obama administration has warned Alabama and Louisiana that recent efforts to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds could violate federal law, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The states moved to stop Planned Parenthood from receiving the funds in the wake of a series of videos targeting the organization (Armour, Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
The videos, which depict Planned Parenthood staff discussing fetal tissue donation, were released by an antiabortion-rights group called the Center for Medical Progress. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization said it does not profit from fetal tissue donations and only receives reimbursement for costs associated with such donations, which is legal. Meanwhile, supporters of Planned Parenthood said the videos are part of a decades-long campaign against the organization (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/12).
Several States Target Planned Parenthood's Medicaid Funding
Last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said the state would cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has ended a state contract under which Planned Parenthood received Medicaid funds.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Executive Council last week voted to defund Planned Parenthood centers in the state (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/7). Because New Hampshire has only moved to block state funding to the centers, the effort is not subject to federal oversight, according to the Journal.
HHS Issues Warning
In a notice to the states, HHS said Medicaid law authorizes beneficiaries to obtain services from any qualified provider, including Planned Parenthood. As a result, efforts in Alabama and Louisiana to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood could violate federal law by restricting beneficiaries' access to the provider of their choice (Wall Street Journal, 8/12). HHS spokesperson Ben Wakana added, "By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings" (Sullivan, The Hill, 8/12).
HHS also provided the states with guidance the agency released in June 2011, noting that states are not allowed to exclude providers from Medicaid because of the types of medical services they offer. According to the guidance, states are only permitted to exclude providers from Medicaid in specific situations, such as if the providers committed certain criminal acts.
Planned Parenthood said it is considering how to respond to the defunding efforts. Further, the organization said it is remaining alert for possible defunding efforts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
According to the Journal, states can request hearings on the matter if the issue is not resolved informally between states and federal officials. If the issue is still not settled following a hearing, CMS could cut states' federal Medicaid funding for failing to comply with federal law (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
According to The Hill, federal courts in the past have blocked states' attempts to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood (The Hill, 8/12). For example, a federal appeals court in 2011 blocked an attempt by Indiana to prohibit Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, citing federal "freedom of choice" requirements for the program (Rovner, Kaiser Health News, 8/13).
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president at Planned Parenthood, praised HHS' notice to the states. "It's good to hear that HHS has clarified what we already know -- blocking women's access to care at Planned Parenthood is against the law" (The Hill, 8/12).
Separately, Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor and Medicaid expert at George Washington University, said the states are not likely to succeed if they take their battles to court. She noted that using Planned Parenthood "is a right for beneficiaries going back to the original statute" (Kaiser Health News, 8/13).
Meanwhile, officials in Louisiana and Alabama defended the legality of their actions. A spokesperson for Jindal said Louisiana's contract with Planned Parenthood permitted either party to cancel the contract at will, as long as a 30-day notice was provided. Similarly, Bentley's press secretary said Alabama's contract with the provider "allow[ed] either party to terminate on 15 days written notice" (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
NEJM Supports Planned Parenthood
In related news, the New England Journal of Medicine in a recent editorial expressed support for Planned Parenthood, Politico Pro reports.
NEJM in the editorial applauded Planned Parenthood for providing millions of people with health care services. In addition, NEJM praised Planned Parenthood for procuring and donating fetal tissue for medical research, noting the organization complies with all legal and ethical guidelines when doing so. "It is shameful that a radical antichoice group whose goal is the destruction of Planned Parenthood continues to twist the facts to achieve its end[s]," NEJM wrote (Mershon/Ehley, Politico Pro, 8/13).
Ga. Officials Say Abortion Providers Follow Law
In other related news, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald said Wednesday that an investigation of five abortion providers in the state, including Planned Parenthood Southeast, has found no evidence that any of the providers are violating state law by donating fetal tissue, the AP/Washington Times reports.
According to the AP/Times, Georgia law requires fetal remains be cremated or buried. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) ordered the investigation last month following the release of the video series (AP/Washington Times, 8/12).