A federal judge could rule within the week on a motion by Planned Parenthood seeking to halt S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s order booting the health care provider from the state’s Medicaid network.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a patient filed suit late last month, asking a judge to reverse McMaster’s July order. The suit was filed against Joshua Baker, head of the S.C. Department Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees the joint federal-state Medicaid program.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis heard arguments Thursday about Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order blocking McMaster’s order until the court can rule on its suit contesting the move’s constitutionality.
McMaster’s July 13 order terminated Planned Parenthood’s ability to seek Medicaid reimbursements for family planning and other health services — including birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases — that it provides to more than 300 of the state’s poorest women, men and teens at its Columbia and Charleston clinics.
Critics said the move by McMaster violated federal Medicaid laws since Planned Parenthood also provides health care services, not just abortions. Federal law already bans clinics from using tax money to perform abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or if a mother’s life is endangered.
“There is no evidence state funds are being used to subsidize abortions,” other than those few cases allowed under federal law, said Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman.
Planned Parenthood argues McMaster’s order is unconstitutional because it places an undue burden on a patient’s right to choose their doctor. States do not have unfettered discretion to exclude health care providers from the Medicaid program for reasons unrelated to the provider’s ability to perform services covered by Medicaid, Planned Parenthood argues.
However, attorney Kelly Jolley, who is representing Health and Human Services, pointed to a federal appeals court decision last year saying Arkansas could block Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood in that state.
Patients in Arkansas said federal law required the state to allow them to choose their medical provider. But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said that right was “ambiguous,” even though four other circuit courts had ruled the opposite way.
More recently, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Kansas improperly had sought to end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding. The appeals court said states can not exclude health care providers from Medicaid “for any reason they see fit, especially when that reason is unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the health care it provides.”
“I’m not seeing any ambiguity there,” Judge Lewis remarked Thursday.
Health and Human Services attorneys also contend Planned Parenthood has failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to it through the state agency.
However, Lewis said such an administrative hearing would be “futile,” given the governor’s order.
State attorneys, too, argued Planned Parenthood patient Julie Edwards has failed to show she has been harmed by McMaster’s order. Jolley said physicians providing services at Planned Parenthood have not been kicked out of the Medicaid program.
“Patients can still receive care from their same physician” so long as they bill Medicaid directly or through another enrolled practice, Jolley said.
Planned Parenthood contends it provides a vital health care safety net for low-income patients in areas suffering from a shortage of doctors. McMaster’s order leaves vulnerable women with limited resources without access to high-quality, “confidential, judgment-free care,” the organization said.
Saying she understood the urgency involved, Judge Lewis promised to issue her ruling “as soon as possible.”
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