Planned Parenthood wants court to block law forbidding Medicaid funding to abortion providers - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Planned Parenthood wants court to block law forbidding Medicaid funding to abortion providers

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Posted: Monday, July 16, 2012 10:51 pm

Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge Monday to block a new law which would bar it from getting state Medicaid funds.

The complaint says the Legislature acted illegally in approving a measure which forbids any funding from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's health insurance for the poor, to any organization which also provides abortions. It asks Judge Neil Wake to prohibit Arizona from implementing the law as scheduled on Aug. 2 and, eventually, to declare it void and unenforceable.

There was no immediate response from state officials. But Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who crafted the measure, said it is needed to protect the tax dollars of those who oppose abortion.

Olson acknowledged a federal judge struck down a similar effort in Texas to restrict funding for Planned Parenthood in that state. But he said there are a few key differences between that law and the one approved here.

According to the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood has more than 66,000 patient visits a year, including about 3,000 from those eligible for AHCCCS. Services provided include pap smears, breast exams, contraceptives and tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases.

It also provides abortions at five of its 13 Arizona locations.

Current law precludes Medicaid funding for abortions except in narrow circumstances. But Olson said that is not enough of a restriction to ensure that tax dollars are not at least indirectly funding the procedures.

"If you're in business and you have two different components of your business, if you increase the other component of your business, then that helps fund the entire operation,'' Olson said. He said it's the same with Planned Parenthood.

"If you have more of these other services that are not abortion services being financed by the taxpayers to Planned Parenthood, then that helps offset the costs of abortions,'' he explained. "And that's what we're trying to prevent from occurring.''

The lawsuit, however, says the move is illegal on a variety of fronts.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood said federal Medicaid laws entitle patients to receive services "from the qualified, willing provider of their choice.'' They also said there is no legal reason to differentiate between family planning providers solely because one also offers abortions.

They also want Wake to rule that the law illegally abrogates the contracts Planned Parenthood has with health care organizations.

That is because AHCCCS does not contract directly with Planned Parenthood -- or, for that matter, most other direct health care providers -- but instead works with health care groups which act like insurance companies. The state pays these groups a flat fee for providing care on a per-person basis, with the groups then deciding where those enrolled with them will go.

Cindy Cerf, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, said her organization originally thought that separation would make the law unenforceable. But she said AHCCCS has since adopted rules designed to ensure that the health care plans do not contract with Planned Parenthood.

Aside from Planned Parenthood, the suit was filed on behalf of three women whose names were not disclosed. The lawsuit says they are AHCCCS patients who want to continue to get care at local Planned Parenthood centers.

Monday's lawsuit is the second challenge in less than a week to abortion laws approved by the Legislature this session. The other measure claims Arizona is violating the constitutional rights of women and their doctors with a separate bill which bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A hearing on that measure is set before a different federal judge on July 25.

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