PHOENIX — Planned Parenthood could soon find itself in another legal battle to keep its Medicaid funding.
Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation that gives the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, new powers to decide that certain individuals or entities cannot participate in the system.
That includes being found liable for the neglect of a patient that results in death or injury or failing to complete mandatory reports of sexual assault or statutory rape.
But the measure most significantly allows AHCCCS at its “sole discretion” to disqualify any entity that did not fully segregate the tax dollars it is getting to ensure none of those went to providing elective abortions. And that even includes accounting for all overhead expenses like rent, lights and heat. The new law is the latest effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Both state and federal laws already bar use of public funds for abortions that are not publicly necessary.
But Arizona, as part of its participation in the federal Medicaid program, provides family planning services for needy women. The federal government pays 90 percent, with the state picking up the balance. Medicaid statutes and regulations also permit eligible women to choose from any qualified provider, which has included Planned Parenthood.
In 2012, however, legislators amended the law to say any organization that provides abortions cannot be a “qualified provider.” Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said any money the government gives Planned Parenthood to pay for other expenses frees up funds for abortions.
A federal appellate court rejected that argument, saying there is no evidence that Planned Parenthood medical staffers are not qualified.
Christina Corieri, the governor’s health policy adviser, said this measure is legally distinguishable in that it does not bar Planned Parenthood from providing family planning services solely because it also does abortions. More to the point, she said it’s justified.
“It has been longstanding policy that taxpayer funds cannot be used for abortions,” she said. Corieri said this simply ensures that policy — and the legal restrictions around public dollars — remains in place.
Corieri said there’s another difference. The 2012 law permanently barred abortion providers from participating in AHCCCS. The new law simply allows the agency to suspend any organization that does not adequately segregate its expenditures, meaning there’s an ability to once again become part of the Medicaid program.
Despite that, a new lawsuit remains a possibility.
“This is another attempt to prevent low-income women from coming to Planned Parenthood for services,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona.