By Peter Sullivan - 08/12/15 02:55 PM EDT
WH warns states: Defunding Planned Parenthood might break law
The Obama administration has warned Louisiana and Alabama that they could be violating federal law by cutting off Planned Parenthood from their states’ Medicaid programs.
The Republican governors in both states this month terminated their state Medicaid contracts with the organization in the wake of controversial undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the price of fetal tissue for medical research.
But the White House points out that federal law says Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services from any qualified provider and that cutting Planned Parenthood out of the program restricts that choice.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) has contacted Louisiana and Alabama about the issue.
“CMS has notified states who have taken action to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood that they may be in conflict with federal law,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement.
“Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider,” he 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 warning was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Federal courts have in the past blocked state attempts by states including Indiana and Arizona to cut Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid, citing the law that gives consumers a choice in providers.
Mike Reed, a spokesman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), indicated the state and its Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) are standing by its decision.
He cited a provision in the state Medicaid contract allowing either party to cancel it at will, with 30 days notice.
“CMS reached out to DHH after we canceled the Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood,” Reed said. “DHH explained to CMS why the state chose to exercise our right to cancel the contract without cause.”
Jindal is one of 17 big-name Republicans running for president in 2016.
Planned Parenthood praised the Obama administration’s move.
“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,” Dawn Laguens, the group’s executive vice president, said in a statement.
She added that the group will “do everything in our power to protect women's access to health care in all fifty states.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest has defended Planned Parenthood and said it follows the “highest ethical standards.” The White House has also threatened to veto any government spending bill that defunds the organization, which some Republicans are calling for.
Updated at 3:04 p.m.