Court refusal lets Arkansas halt Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood

A federal appeals court declined Monday to revisit a three-judge panel's decision that Arkansas can discontinue Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.

Three unnamed patients, who sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services after the funding cutoff was announced two years ago, had asked the panel and the entire 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to reconsider the Aug. 16 ruling, which vacated a federal judge's 2015 and 2016 orders directing the state to continue paying for Planned Parenthood services for Medicaid recipients.

The ruling comes two years after Gov. Asa Hutchinson decided to end the state's contract with Planned Parenthood after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos.

The plaintiffs are considering their next steps, said Bettina Brownstein, one of the attorneys representing the patients. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible, but they could also exhaust other options in a lower court or through the state's administrative appeal process and court system, Brownstein said Monday.

It remains unclear when Planned Parenthood could stop receiving Medicaid dollars in Arkansas. Amy Webb, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, said the 8th Circuit must issue a mandate to the district court.

"Once that happens, we will turn off the Medicaid provider number," she said in an email.

A spokesman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which oversees the provider's two Arkansas clinics -- one each in Little Rock and Fayetteville -- said the clinics are continuing to see Medicaid recipients.

"Planned Parenthood Great Plains is committed to ensuring all patients in Arkansas retain the right to choose their provider, no matter their socioeconomic status," Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Aaron Samulcek said in a statement. "While we evaluate all of our legal options and next steps, PPGP will keep fighting for our patients in Little Rock and Fayetteville to have access to critical services."

The court's two-page order didn't explain why the rehearing requests were denied. It did, however, note that Judge Roger Wollman of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Judge Jane Kelly of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, supported a hearing before all 14 appellate judges in the 8th Circuit.

The court's decision underscores a divide among federal appellate courts across the U.S., setting up the potential need for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood had argued in the Arkansas case that seven other states -- Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas -- had been barred by federal courts from blocking Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, the plaintiffs argued, federal appeals courts for the 5th, 7th and 9th circuits had affirmed those rulings.

None of Arkansas' Medicaid dollars go toward abortions because of a state law preventing such funding. At issue are funds meant to cover cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted infection, contraception and other preventive care to nearly 4,500 patients in Arkansas annually, many of whom depend on Medicaid.

Hutchinson and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised Monday's decision.

"It is important for the state to have the clear authority to terminate Medicaid providers who act in unethical ways and in violation of state policy," Hutchinson said in a statement. "The decision early on to terminate Planned Parenthood as a provider was the right decision, and I am delighted with the decision of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in affirming the right of the State to take this action."

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, also cited inappropriate behavior from the provider in a statement supporting Monday's ruling.

"Attorney General Rutledge is pleased with the court's decision to deny the request for rehearing, which reaffirms that Planned Parenthood and the three patients it­ recruited could not contest in federal court Arkansas's determination that a medical provider has engaged in misconduct that merits disqualification from the Medicaid program," Deere said in an email.

State officials have consistently pointed to "unethical conduct" by Planned Parenthood stemming from a series of heavily edited videos released in 2015.

The videos, which were recorded secretly by anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, purported to show that some clinics in other states had profited from allowing patients to donate fetal tissue to medical research after abortions. However, Planned Parenthood has noted that more than a dozen states have cleared the provider of wrongdoing after investigating.

Metro on 11/14/2017

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