The Sneaky Bill That Passed While Spotlight Was on Planned Parenthood Hearing


An under-the-radar bill passed on Tuesday that would be especially harmful not only to Planned Parenthood, but also to the health of millions of women. (Photo: Getty Images)

A funny thing happened on Tuesday while all eyes were on the five-hour long House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Planned Parenthood yesterday — during which time Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards answered questions regarding her salary, Medicaid reimbursements, and breast cancer screenings.

Richards’ testimony was widely covered in the media, but during that time the rest of the House gathered to pass an under-the-radar bill that would be especially harmful not only to Planned Parenthood, but also to the health of the millions of poor and underserved women the organization serves.

The bill, H.R. 3495, is named — rather ironically— the Women’s Public Health and Safety Act. Now headed to the Senate for their vote, H.R. 3495 would allow individual states to eliminate any healthcare provider who performs or participates in abortion care as a Medicaid provider within that state.

The Obama administration issued a statement of administration policy on Monday voicing the President’s intent to veto such legislation if necessary — noting that, if enacted, it would “limit access to both critical women’s health services and health care throughout local communities across the Nation, and would have a disproportionate impact on women and low-income individuals. Moreover, it would undermine a woman’s right, upheld by the Supreme Court, to make her own choices about her body and her health care.”

But antiabortion legislators and lobbyists aren’t quitting without a fight.

In the wake of the widely discredited undercover “sting” videos released this summer by the antiabortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) — which allege that Planned Parenthood is illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue from abortions — several states have already attempted to eliminate Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider, and have been met with lawsuits from Planned Parenthood as a result.

Related: Fact-Checking Planned Parenthood Chief’s Heated House Hearing

Louisiana Governor and GOP presidential hopeful, Bobby Jindal, was one of the first — and loudest — state officials to attempt to eliminate Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider in his state, insisting that his actions were legal and justifiable despite federal courts having already overturned similar efforts in Arizona and Indiana.

Related: Bobby Jindal Cuts Medicaid Funding to Planned Parenthood Clinics in Louisiana

Last month, attorneys representing Louisiana in the lawsuit were asked by a federal judge to submit a list of other family planning service providers that would be available to patients should they lose access to Planned Parenthood. The list they provided included, to the judge’s grave concern, opthalmologists, nursing home caregivers, dentists, ENTs (ear, nose and throat specialists) and plastic surgeons.

“You’re telling me that they can provide family planning and related services?” Judge John deGravelles asked the state’s attorneys when presented with the list.

Louisiana’s legal team then followed up with an amended, and more appropriate list. However, whereas the first list — which claimed that a dentist can easily provide contraception — included over 2000 healthcare providers, the revised list found only 29 health centers that were truly able to provide family planning services.

Jindal ultimately rescinded his elimination of Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider, though, as the Los Angeles Times reports, “state officials say they will shortly refile to defund Planned Parenthood ‘for cause.’”

The Women’s Public Health and Safety Act would eliminate the need for states to engage in lengthy, scrutinizing, and expensive legal battles such as that which played out in Louisiana. The bill would render the current Medicaid statute that ensures “that beneficiaries can obtain family planning services from any qualified provider willing to participate in a state’s Medicaid program” ineffective — despite federal law already prohibiting Medicaid coverage of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the woman is at risk. The statute was written to ensure that women have the ability to freely select the family planning service provider of their choice, to ensure each woman’s utmost comfort and trust with her individual provider, whomever she chooses. For many women on Medicaid, that provider is a physician with a Planned Parenthood affiliate clinic.

As the Center for Budget and Public Policy’s Judith Solomon wrote in a white paper on H.R. 3495 yesterday, “Medicaid is the largest funder of family planning services, and Planned Parenthood is a major provider of those services for low-income women. In over two-thirds of counties with a Planned Parenthood clinic, the clinics serve at least half of all women receiving publicly funded contraceptive services; in one-fifth of the counties, Planned Parenthood serves all such women.”

As estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the elimination of Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider would ultimately raise federal spending by $130 million over the next ten years as a result of a rapid influx on unintended pregnancies whose costs would be absorbed by taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs.

Already, the majority of Medicaid programs are experiencing provider shortages, with more than two-thirds of states reporting difficulty in ensuring enough providers, especially OB-GYN care, for enrollees. Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics make up 10 percent of all publicly funded family planning centers, serving 36 percent of all clients who obtain care from the family planning health care network.

Likewise, Planned Parenthood health centers make up 13 percent of all Title X-funded clinics, and yet serve 37 percent of all Title X clients. (Title X is the federal grant program that provides comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services, including contraception.)

A memo put out yesterday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office and acquired by Yahoo Health notes that current estimates show “that publicly funded contraceptive services prevented 2.2 million unintended pregnancies in one recent year alone.” Furthermore, Planned Parenthood provides family planning counseling and contraceptives to 2.1 million patients each year — nearly 80 percent of which are at or below 150 percent poverty, meaning that the receive these services through Medicaid or Title X.

H.R. 3495 is the latest in a year of aggressive attacks on women’s health by Republican leadership — attacks that ultimately yielded the resignation of Speaker of the House John Boehner, effective at the end of October.

It is also the latest glimpse of the Republican party’s hand when it comes to women’s health and the recent series of inquiries the party is leading into Planned Parenthood.

One Wednesday, the House’s Energy and Commerce committee meets for the second-time to mark-up the reconciliation (aka - filibuster proof) measure that would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare.

As explained in a memo sent to House Democrats regarding the measure, “The Reconciliation Instructions limits for one year Medicaid reimbursements payments for States through any public health program, including any existing and approved Medicaid family planning waivers, or Medicaid waivers more broadly, to reimburse a “prohibited entity”. The bill defines “prohibited entity” as a 501©3 organization that is “primarily engaged in family planning, reproductive health services and related medical care” and provides abortions….Essentially, the bill would cut off funding for Planned Parenthood Medicaid reimbursements but also could incentivize providers down the line to make a choice between being a Medicaid provider that cares for low-income women and providing abortion services. In addition, the language would immediately interrupt all currently approved Medicaid waivers, in all state Medicaid programs.

Furthermore, the House is also considering an “enrollment correction” to the proposed budget continuing resolution (CR) needed to prevent a shutdown from going into effect as of midnight tonight that contains identical language to the bill to defund Planned Parenthood that was defeated in the Senate just last week.

Experts lament that these bills — despite being rooted in the CMP’s seeming attempt to eliminate the practice of fetal tissue donation and research, is, like the CMP videos themselves — is in fact a means to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

In a statement today, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “There is only one word to describe anti-choice Republicans’ attempt to end legal abortion in this country at this point: obsessed. It would be sad if it wasn’t so dangerous.”

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