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Federal appeals court sides with Texas, Louisiana efforts to cut Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding

Federal appeals court sides with Texas, Louisiana efforts to cut Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding
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Texas and Louisiana can cut Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs, a federal appeals court ruled Monday evening, a win for abortion opponents who have long sought to cut off federal and state funding to the organization.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Texas and Louisiana state officials Monday in a 11-5 ruling reversing lower court decisions blocking the changes from taking effect. 

State officials argued they should be able to remove "unqualified" providers from Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for the poor. 

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The majority of judges wrote that the women who sued Texas officials to challenge the ban, who were represented by Planned Parenthood, had no right to challenge the state’s determination that the organization is “unqualified” and therefore can’t participate in Medicaid.

“While the statute unambiguously provides that a Medicaid beneficiary has the right to obtain services from the qualified provider of her choice, [the law] does not unambiguously say that a beneficiary may contest or otherwise challenge a determination that the provider of her choice is unqualified,” Chief Judge Priscilla Owen wrote in the majority opinion.

It’s a major blow for Planned Parenthood, which recently left a separate federal family planning grant program after new restrictions were imposed by the Trump administration. 

“Let’s be clear — patients should be able to go to the provider they know and trust regardless of their zip code and income level,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement. 

“Accountability is coming, and we will fight back against any politician who doesn’t prioritize expanding accessible, affordable quality health care,” she added. 

Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid has long been a target of abortion opponents since about half of its patients are beneficiaries of the program. 

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Planned Parenthood argued federal law allows Medicaid patients to see any qualified and willing provider, and efforts to cut it out of the program are politically motivated and will have a disproportionate effect on people of color.

While federal law already prohibits federal funding of abortion, anti-abortion politicians and advocates have long argued that any money that goes to organizations like Planned Parenthood indirectly supports the procedure. 

Through Medicaid, Planned Parenthood offers patients birth control, family planning, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and other services, but not abortions, except in limited instances, such as to save the life of the mother.

Planned Parenthood is likely to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, despite the recent confirmation of Trump nominee Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettCourt watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress Conservative justices split in ruling for immigrant fighting deportation MORE, who they argue opposes abortion. 

However, the Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of a similar case with a different outcome in which a lower court ruled that the South Carolina Department of Health could not cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.

The discrepancy among lower court rulings might make it more likely the Supreme Court would hear the Texas or Louisiana cases so the issue can be settled.

State efforts to cut Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid have been supported by the Trump administration, which recently approved a request from Texas to implement a federally funded Medicaid family planning program that excludes Planned Parenthood. 

States can get waivers from the federal government to extend Medicaid coverage for sexual and reproductive health services to people who do not qualify for the traditional Medicaid program. 

Tennessee, South Carolina and Idaho have similar requests pending before the Trump administration, but it’s not clear when or if they will be approved. The incoming Biden administration would likely deny those waivers.