The Kansas Legislature defied logic in voting this past session to block federal funding to Planned Parenthood. According to a Medicaid bulletin issued last week, it also defied federal law — and potentially put billions of dollars of federal funding at risk.
Federal law already prohibits Medicaid funding of abortion except in extraordinary circumstances. What’s more, the Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood in Kansas went to health and family planning clinics in Wichita and Hays that don’t provide abortions. Nonetheless, state lawmakers approved a bill — which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law — that stripped about $300,000 in funding from Planned Parenthood.
Critics argued that defunding these clinics could hurt the health of women and lead to more unplanned pregnancies and, as a result, more abortions. But lawmakers and Brownback didn’t seem to care. They don’t want tax money going anywhere near Planned Parenthood, regardless of how it is used.
But last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a bulletin warning that states “may not exclude qualified health care providers — whether an individual provider, a physician group, an outpatient clinic or a hospital — from providing services that are funded under the program because they separately provide abortion services.” Doing so, the bulletin noted, violates the “free choice of provider” provision of federal law.
CMS Director Donald M. Berwick also sent a letter last week to Indiana, which passed a law similar to Kansas’. He denied Indiana’s request to amend its Medicaid state plan to block funds to providers that also perform abortions, noting that such a restriction violates federal law.
The Indiana law is already in court. A federal judge heard arguments Monday regarding a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of Indiana aimed at stopping implementation of the law.
If states refuse to follow federal law, they could potentially jeopardize their entire federal Medicaid funding. For Kansas, that’s an estimated $5.6 billion this fiscal year.
Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for Brownback, said that the administration is looking carefully at this issue. “But the people of Kansas and their elected representatives have made it clear that they don’t want their tax dollars going to abortion providers,” she said.
Well, Brownback and the majority of lawmakers made that clear. Nationally, 65 percent of the public favor continued funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.
The public understands that Medicaid money already can’t be used for abortions, and that such laws are really about abortion politics.
And abortion politics aren’t a defense for violating federal law.