Under sharp questioning Wednesday by a federal district judge, a Jindal administration lawyer said the state has no quarrel with the quality of the care provided by Planned Parenthood, but canceled the contract because it could.
Stephen Russo, representing the state Department of Health and Hospitals and DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert, said the state terminated the Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood clinic in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but the action had nothing to do with the adequacy of the care. He pointed to the hidden-camera videos that allegedly show officials of the national clinics talking about selling tissue from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood denies the allegations.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for president, said Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions around the country but not in Louisiana, should not receive government money.
The videos may have led to the contract termination, Russo told the court, but that’s not the reason.
“You’re telling me Secretary Kliebert’s reasoning for doing that is ‘We can do it?’” asked U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, of Baton Rouge.
“She has chosen to terminate the contract,” Russo replied.
The reason is that all the contracts the state has with the physicians, clinics and other health care providers being paid through Medicaid include a clause that allows termination with a 30-day notice. Medicaid provides health care coverage for the poor, roughly one-fourth of Louisiana’s population. The medical care is paid for partly by state government, but mostly by the federal government.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and three of its patients claim that the Jindal administration, through DHH, violated federal Medicaid law. The group claims that 5,200 low-income patients received services in Baton Rouge and New Orleans that were paid by Medicaid — about $730,000 last year.
They asked Judge deGravelles to set aside the governor’s order.
He heard arguments Wednesday over competing briefs that outlined positions each side has taken.
Funding was supposed to be eliminated Wednesday, but both sides agreed to extend the deadline to Sept. 15 to allow time to respond to arguments filed late Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which side with Planned Parenthood’s position.
Federal law requires patients, even the poor who are Medicaid rolls, have the freedom to choose their own qualified physician. The state counters that federal law is aimed at preventing state Medicaid programs using the qualified status to lock patients into going to specific doctors and clinics. The patient has a right to choose a qualified health care provider, but they’re not guaranteed any health care provider, Russo argued.
deGravelles said that in this case the state is saying Planned Parenthood is not qualified simply because it chose to eliminate the contract, not because it provides inferior service.
“I admit that it is circular,” Russo said.
But, even without Planned Parenthood, there are plenty of providers available, Russo argued.
The state turned over a list of about 2,000 health care professionals and companies that could provide family planning services.
“There are dentists listed on there, sir,” deGravelles said.
Russo said the list was compiled by DHH, which used the codes put on invoices to construct the list.
“It strikes me as extremely odd,” deGravelles said.
Federal courts have overturned previous attempts in Arizona and Indiana to disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.
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