By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts will plug any holes in the budget of the state chapter of Planned Parenthood if the U.S. Congress moves to block the use of Medicaid funds for treatment at the women's health care organization, Governor Charlie Baker said on Friday.
The move by the Republican governor of a Democratic-leaning state is intended in part to signal the gap between his positions and those of the Republican-controlled Congress, many of whose members oppose Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortions.
U.S. laws already prohibit federal money from being used for abortion, but currently allow the Medicaid low-income health program to cover other services, such as screening and treatment for cancers and sexually transmitted diseases.
"Governor Baker is a strong supporter of women's health and believes the commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure access to the important health care services offered by Planned Parenthood in all corners of our state," Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in a statement. "The administration is prepared to fund these services should the federal government pursue changes that would block care for women and families here in Massachusetts."
Currently about $2 million of the group's $21.5 million budget in the state comes from reimbursements for services to Medicaid patients. Those funds cover treatments for some 10,000 patients a year, about a third of its total, the group said.
"At a time when extreme politicians in Congress want to block millions of people from accessing essential preventive care at Planned Parenthood health centers, it is reassuring to see Governor Baker put the health and wellbeing of our communities ahead of politics," said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
As the governor of a liberal-leaning state that was the first in the nation to legalize gay marriage more than a decade ago, many of Baker's positions on social issues are to the left of national Republicans. He last year signed a law protecting the rights of transgender people and also supports abortion rights.
The willingness to step in to fill a budget gap is a pronounced move for a former healthcare executive who has made reining in the state's budget a key goal of his administration.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)