As a federal judge considers whether to block the implementation of a recently-passed law that defunds Planned Parenthood of Indiana, more than 20,000 low-income patients are on the verge of losing their primary health care provider.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed a bill in early May that, among other things, blocks Medicaid patients from being reimbursed for health services at Planned Parenthood clinics and requires doctors to tell a pregnant woman seeking abortion that the fetus might feel pain during the procedure. Republican lawmakers have said the bill is intended to prevent taxpayer-funded abortions, although the Hyde Amendment has prevented government money from being used for abortions for the past 30 years.
Since the bill took effect, Planned Parenthood of Indiana has received an unprecedented amount of donations from nearly 1200 donors across three continents. The donations totaled $116,000, and PPIN estimates that the money will allow it to continue providing medical services to its current Medicaid patients through June 20.
“We are delighted that this astounding outpouring of donations from around the world continues," said PPIN President and CEO Betty Cockrum. "Using those generous gifts to provide Pap tests, birth control and STD testing and treatment to our Medicaid patients is absolutely the right thing to do."
But unless Judge Tanya Walton Pratt strikes down the defunding law, when the money runs out, PPIN says it will be forced to close at least seven of its clinics in poor, rural or medically-underserved areas, lay off up to 30 health center staff and displace an estimated 20,858 Medicaid patients from their primary health provider. None of the clinics that would be shut down provide abortions.
At a hearing on Monday, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America asked the judge to stop the law from being implemented, because it is designed to penalize health providers that perform legal, privately-funded abortions. Moreover, the attorneys argued, the law endangers patients by requiring providers to give patients misleading information about abortion.
The federal Health and Human Services Department recently rejected Indiana's request to defund Planned Parenthood, since Medicaid rules state that patients should have the freedom to choose any qualified health provider, but the state has not said whether it intends to comply with the rule. If Indiana proceeds with the defunding, it could lose all of the family planning money it currently receives from the federal government.
"CMS has informed Indiana that their proposed Amendment is not in compliance with federal law," a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services official said in a statement. "We are working with Indiana and fully expect that the State will follow the federal law that sets the conditions for its receipt of over $4 billion in Federal Medicaid funds."
Judge Pratt said she would deliver a final decision on the law by July 1, but Cockrum pleaded for an earlier decision on behalf of the thousands of Medicaid patients that will be displaced when donor money runs out.
“Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of hundreds of first-time donors, we’ve been able to keep our doors open to most Medicaid patients across the state,” she said. “However, this kind of financial support is already waning and cannot be sustained. Every day that we are not a Medicaid provider, women are put at risk of unintended pregnancy."
A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, a leading reproductive health research and advocacy group, estimates that unintended pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $11.1 billion a year. The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration reported in 2008 that over half of all Indiana births were financed by Medicaid, averaging a cost of $11,250 per birth.
"Restricting access to preventative health and family planning services for thousands of low-income men and women is a very cavalier and irresponsible approach to public health policy," Cockrum said.