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States can't block Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood, feds say


States like Florida can't block Medicaid money from abortion clinics, federal officials said in a letter to state health officials Tuesday.

"Providing the full range of women's health services neither disqualifies a provider from participating in the Medicaid program, nor is the provision of such services inconsistent with the best interests of the beneficiary and shall not be grounds for a state's action against a provider," Vikki Wachino, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, wrote in the letter, which was also sent to groups representing the nation's governors, state lawmakers and public health officials.

Translation: You can't exempt Planned Parenthood or any other abortion clinic from Medicaid just for being an abortion clinic.

Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a controversial law that blocks all state money, including Medicaid, from abortion clinics, including preventive services like cancer screenings and HIV testing. State law already prevented taxpayer dollars from funding abortions.

The state can't do that unless the federal government agrees. And Wachino's letter sounds like an early "no."

The money on the line across the state is uncertain, ranging from $114,000 according to Scott's office to $500,000 according to Planned Parenthood.

Asked whether the state has requested approval to stop the flow of funds to abortion clinics or whether it believes it has the legal authority to do so, Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said in a statement Tuesday that, "We’re looking at all of our options."

Federal law gives Medicaid recipients the right to be served by "any institution, agency, community pharmacy or person qualified to perform the service or services required," according to Wachino's letter.

While states are allowed to set "reasonable standards" related to quality, they can't "target a provider or set of providers," unless they fail to meet quality standards or have shoddy billing practices.

The law in question -- HB 1411 -- does set other quality standards that abortion-rights supporters say could lead to clinics closing. But the potential loss of funding is also of concern.

State lawmakers said the law ensures opponents of abortion aren't forced to indirectly pay for the procedure via tax dollars that go to clinics for other procedures.

"The idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions is simply intolerable," Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said during a Senate floor debate in March.