HHS threatens states: Defunding Planned Parenthood puts your Medicaid funds at risk

States are moving to cut off Planned Parenthood funds amid video controversy

The Obama administration has warned Alabama and Louisiana that recent efforts to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds could violate federal law.

Background on Planned Parenthood controversy

The states moved to stop Planned Parenthood from receiving the funds in the wake of a series of videos targeting the organization.

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). CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue.

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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.

Last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said the state would cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood within 15 days. Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has moved to end its Medicaid provider agreement with the organization.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Executive Council last week voted to defund Planned Parenthood centers in the state. Because New Hampshire has only moved to block state funding to the centers, the effort is not subject to federal oversight, Stephanie Armour reports for the Wall Street Journal.

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HHS's 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.

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."

HHS also provided the states with guidance the department released in June 2011, which notes 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 situation, such as if the providers committed certain criminal acts.

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Next steps

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 Armour, 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.

Federal courts in the past have blocked states' attempts to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. 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 (Armour, Wall Street Journal, 8/12; Sullivan, The Hill, 8/12; Rovner, Kaiser Health News, 8/13; Carney, "Floor Action," The Hill, 7/22).

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