Supreme Court Review Sought for Ariz. Law Restricting Medicaid Payments to Women's Health Providers

November 22, 2013 — Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (R) on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court's ruling blocking a law (HB 2800) that would bar organizations that provide abortions from participating in the state's Medicaid program, the Arizona Republic reports (Beard Rau, Arizona Republic, 11/20).

Although the state's Medicaid program does not cover abortions except in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity, the law blocked Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving family planning or other services from providers that also offer abortions.

In August, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's permanent injunction against the law. The panel agreed with the lower court that the law violates federal rules that give patients the right to choose qualified doctors and clinics (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/23).

The 9th Circuit judges wrote, "The free-choice-of-provider provision unambiguously requires that states participating in the Medicaid program allow covered patients to choose among the family-planning medical practitioners they could use were they paying out of their own pockets." They dismissed the state's arguments that Arizona has the authority to determine which doctors are qualified to serve Medicaid patients, saying that such logic would allow all states to ban doctors for arbitrary reasons.

Historically, the Supreme Court tends to hear cases in which lower courts have issued conflicting decisions. In this case, the lower courts have decided similarly.

Conflict Over Supreme Court Petition

Planned Parenthood of Arizona President and CEO Bryan Howard said litigation related to the law "has already cost the state of Arizona approximately $279,000 in legal fees alone, which is what it would cost Arizona to provide clinical breast exams or cervical-cancer screenings to thousands of [Medicaid] patients," adding, "It will cost the state even more to litigate its petition to the Supreme Court."

However, Steven Aden -- senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group working with the state in the case -- said in a statement, "Arizona should be free to enforce its public policy against the taxpayer funding of abortion and in favor of the best health care for women" (Arizona Republic, 11/20).