Politics & Government

Thought Planned Parenthood was booted from SC program? Think again

A federal judge Tuesday granted a request by Planned Parenthood to temporarily halt S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s order booting the health care provider from the state’s Medicaid network.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis issued a restraining order that blocks McMaster’s order until the court can rule on Planned Parenthood’s suit contesting the move’s constitutionality.

The ruling means that Planned Parenthood can continue to accept Medicaid patients at its two S.C. clinics — at least for now.

“Today’s ruling demonstrates that playing political games with the health and dignity of women and families should not have any place in the everyday lives of South Carolinians,” Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood is deeply committed to continuing to fight for the right to basic health care, and we are grateful to the Court for protecting our patient’s access to care, just as we always have.”

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, Lewis wrote in her order.

“It is undisputed (Planned Parenthood) is professionally competent and is capable of performing family planning services for Medicaid patients,” she wrote.

McMaster on July 13 signed an order terminating 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.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and patient Julie Edwards filed suit late last month, asking a judge to reverse McMaster’s order. The suit was filed against Joshua Baker, head of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees the joint federal-state Medicaid program.

Planned Parenthood argues McMaster’s order is unconstitutional because it places an undue burden on a patient’s right to choose his or her doctor.

The state’s attorneys contend Medicaid does not define the term “qualified,” permitting states to exclude providers for any reason established by law. They pointed to an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last year that said patients’ right to choose their medical provider was “ambiguous.”

Lewis, however, notes five other circuit courts have issued “well-reasoned and persuasive opinions” to the contrary, establishing that federal law does not provide states “unlimited authority to exclude providers for any reason whatsoever.”

Federal law, too, already bans clinics from using tax money to perform abortions, except in limited cases of rape or incest, or if a mother’s life is endangered.

Planned Parenthood is reimbursed through the Medicaid program on a fee-for-service basis for covered services, “thus, PPSAT’s inclusion in South Carolina’s Medicaid program results in neither the direct nor indirect use of state funds to pay for abortions,” Lewis wrote.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor “will continue to fight until every South Carolinian can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their tax dollars are not being used to perform abortions.”

HHS last week submitted a request seeking permission from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that would make abortion providers ineligible to offer health care services to S.C. Medicaid beneficiaries.

“Obviously, the agency will continue to push forward both with the waiver application and through the courts to fully implement Governor McMaster’s orders,” Baker said in a statement. “We remain focused on pursuing a comprehensive approach to prenatal care that manages a range of health services for our beneficiaries, supports clinical practices that integrate care, and promotes providers that strive to improve the overall health and well-being of both parents and children.”

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton8
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