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Sat, Dec. 07

Planned Parenthood dodges termination of Medicaid funding ... for now

PHOENIX -- State Medicaid officials have agreed not to try to cut off family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood, at least not yet.

A new law that takes effect Saturday permits the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to unilaterally exclude Planned Parenthood from the program if he decides that it "failed to segregate taxpayer dollars (for family planning) from abortions.' And the law gives him the power to do that "at his sole discretion.'

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and Desert Star Family Planning filed suit last month in federal court.

They claim the measure illegally interferes with the right of Medicaid recipients to get family planning services where they want -- in this case, specifically from them. And that, they say, is a violation of federal Medicaid regulations.

But Planned Parenthood attorney Diana Salgado said Monday her organization will not be asking U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver to block the new law from taking effect. That follows assurances from AHCCCS officials that there will not be any immediate action taken against abortion providers that also get Medicaid dollars for family planning.

Beth Kohler, the agency's deputy director, confirmed that understanding.

But she said AHCCCS has made no agreement to ignore the law indefinitely. Instead, she said, her agency first needs to hire outside counsel to determine whether to agree to a standstill agreement, and for how long.

Hanging in the balance is whether about 2,500 individuals who get family planning services through Planned Parenthood will be forced to seek care elsewhere.

Both state and federal law already preclude the use of taxpayer dollars for elective abortions. But abortion foes contend that money that goes to Planned Parenthood for family planning can effectively underwrite the cost of terminating pregnancies.

The law not only requires abortion provides to prove to Tom Betlach, the AHCCCS director, that tax dollars are not funding abortions but even to show that those dollars do not pay for any general overhead expenses that might provide an indirect subsidy, like utilities. And Betlach need give family planning providers just 24 hours' notice before cutting off their Medicaid funds.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the measure. Christina Corieri, his health policy adviser, said the law simply protects taxpayer dollars.

But attorneys for challengers contend the measure illegally interferes with the right of Medicaid recipients to get family planning services where they want, something they say violates federal Medicaid regulations.

This is the second time AHCCCS has been sued over this issue.

Federal appellate judges voided a 2012 law which declared that any organization that provides abortions cannot get Medicaid funds for family planning services. The judges said lawmakers cannot enact such a restriction.

This new law is designed to get around that ruling by saying abortion providers will be cut from the Medicaid program only if they cannot prove their family planning dollars are not in any way subsidizing the cost of elective abortions.

Kohler said what's yet to be negotiated is how long AHCCCS won't enforce the law.

She said attorneys for challengers pointed out that the law requires her agency to adopt rules that would govern things like how long an abortion provider be excluded from the program and procedures for appealing Betlach's decision. Kohler said challengers figure that Betlach probably can't take any action against abortion providers until those rules are in place, a process that could take months.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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