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HHS Sends Warning to 2 States That Ended Planned Parenthood Contracts

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned Alabama on Thursday that its cancellation of Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood could violate federal law.

By Brian Lyman

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned Alabama on Thursday that its cancellation of Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood could violate federal law.

"Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider," a statement from HHS said. "By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings."

The communication amounts to a notice that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicaid, sees Gov. Robert Bentley's action as out of step with program regulations. Without resolution, the move could land the state in court, or possibly lead to the loss of Alabama's Medicaid funding. More than two-thirds of the money for the state's Medicaid program comes from the federal government.

HHS contacted state officials about their concerns on Aug. 7, a day after Bentley moved to cancel the contracts. The agency referred officials to guidance issued by the agency in 2011 on the matter. HHS sent a similar warning to Louisiana, which canceled its Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood earlier that week.

Federal law says Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services from any qualified provider.

Planned Parenthood clinics in Birmingham and Mobile perform abortions. However, Medicaid does not pay for abortions except in the case of rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. Alabama only paid $4,351 to Planned Parenthood in FY 14 and 15, mainly for contraception.

Bentley canceled the state's Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood because of an anti-abortion group's release of videos showing members of Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetuses and fetal parts.

"I respect human life and do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not," the governor said in a statement last week.

In a letter sent to Planned Parenthood Southeast, Bentley said the contracts would be canceled within 15 days. The organization has 60 days to appeal. According to Bentley spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis, Planned Parenthood had not filed an appeal as of Thursday afternoon.

"The contract with Planned Parenthood allows either party to terminate on a 15-day written notice," she said.

Bentley had not changed his mind on the cancellation, she said.

Planned Parenthood said it participates in a medical donation program that operates in three states; Alabama is not one of them. The organization has also claimed the videos were purposefully edited to mislead viewers.

In a statement, Staci Fox, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the organization was "exploring all options" in regards to the Medicaid cancellations.

"We also urge our leaders to put politics aside and to put the women and families in our communities first," the statement said. "There are urgent problems we need our lawmakers to address -- and we fear they will only get worse if politicians make it harder for us to care for the patients who rely on us."

The group had earlier warned that Bentley's actions went against federal court decisions on Medicaid spending. Similar moves by other states have resulted in lawsuits.

(c)2015 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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