Planned Parenthood sues over Bobby Jindal's order to yank Medicaid funding _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- From left, Lafayette's Julie Campeaux, Prairieville's Carter LeBlanc and daughter Gabby LeBlanc, 10, and Katelin Arabie, a Dallas resident studying at The University of Louisiana-Lafayette, hold signs at the 'Women Betrayed' rally outside Planned Parenthood Baton Rouge at 3955 Government St. on July 28, 2015.

Planned Parenthood went to federal court Tuesday to try to block Gov. Bobby Jindal’s attempt to yank Medicaid funding from its Louisiana operations.

Planned Parenthood estimates more than 5,200 of its patients using Baton Rouge and New Orleans facilities could lose access to health care on Sept. 2, if the court doesn’t step in and stop Jindal from ending the state’s Medicaid agreement with the group’s Louisiana affiliate. Terminating the contract also threatens the future of the Baton Rouge facility because 60 percent of its operating revenue comes from Medicaid, the lawsuit states.

The clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans were paid $730,000 by the state and federal government Medicaid program last year for services, such as, cancer screenings, well-woman exams, sexually transmitted testing and treatment, and birth control. About one-fourth of the state’s population receive healthcare coverage from Medicaid.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services already warned the Department of Health and Hospitals, the state’s health agency, that Jindal’s action violated federal law because it discriminates against a qualified provider, in this case Planned Parenthood. Federal courts in Indiana and Arizona have struck down attempts in those states to defund Planned Parenthood because of the abortion services it provides in some areas of the U.S.

Jindal’s Executive Counsel Thomas Enright said the state is within its rights to end the Medicaid provider agreement. The contract gives either party the right to cancel with 30 days notice, he said, and the governor exercised that right.

“Planned Parenthood is flailing. This lawsuit is without merit and the state will aggressively defend our right to cancel the contract,” Enright said in a statement released by Jindal’s office.

“The illegal action taken by Gov. Jindal and DHH puts thousands of people’s health at risk,” Reagan Carter, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s external services director, said. She called Jindal’s action “political grandstanding.”

“Louisiana needs more doctors and clinics, not less, with the high number of uninsured adults,” said Steve Spires, a senior policy analyst with Louisiana Budget Project, a Baton Rouge-based research group that looks at government policies from a lower- and middle-income perspective. He noted that Baton Rouge and New Orleans have among the highest HIV infection rates in the country.

When Jindal said earlier this month that he wanted to pull the contract, he added that the organization is not worthy of getting public assistance from the state. He cited undercover videos that allegedly depict the selling of fetal body parts at some facilities outside Louisiana.

“Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life,” Jindal said in a statement issued by his office.

Planned Parenthood has denied any illegal activity. Officials said the undercover videos have been doctored by the anti-abortionists, who have embarked on a national campaign to defund the organization. Neither of Planned Parenthood’s facilities in Louisiana perform abortions. Planned Parenthood plans to seek a license for an abortion clinic associated with a new health center in New Orleans.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge by three patients and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, of which Louisiana facilities are a part. It seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction stopping DHH from cancelling the Medicaid provider agreement. It alleges that DHH violated federal Medicaid patient freedom of choice provisions.

Planned Parenthood alleges that Jindal is violating federal law by stripping funding over the abortion issue.

Under federal law, Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain covered services from any qualified provider.

“This law is good federal policy,” Carrie Flaxman, PPFA legal counsel.

Cindy Mann, the former director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a warning to states in 2011 about defunding attempts. “Medicaid programs may not exclude qualified health care providers—whether an individual provider, a physician group, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital—from providing services under the program because they separately provide abortion services (not funded by federal Medicaid dollars, consistent with the federal prohibition) as part of their scope of practice,” Mann wrote.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage from the State Capitol, follow Louisiana politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/