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Health

Local Planned Parenthood Head 'Confident' It Will Win Lawsuit Over Medicaid Funding

McQuade1.JPG
Hannah Copeland
/
Heartland Health Monitor
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, wore a pink tutu Friday in honor of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri's spring fundraiser, which was titled "PinkOut."

Last week was a busy one for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

First, Kansas health officials informed the organization they were ending its Medicaid funding.

Then Planned Parenthood fired back with a lawsuit calling the action illegal and politically motivated.

The timing may have turned out to be serendipitous for the organization. On Friday night it held its first spring fundraiser, a dinner at the historic Firestone Building in Kansas City, and the event drew between 150 and 200 people, according to Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore.

In honor of the event, which was titled “PinkOut,” many of the women attendees wore pink dresses and many of the men pink shirts with blazers.

Before the dinner, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, Laura McQuade, responded to a few questions from a reporter and had harsh words for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Sporting a black blouse and pink tutu, the outspoken McQuade said the state’s cutoff of Medicaid funding was meant to divert attention from the state’s other, serious problems.

“I think that ideologically he (Brownback) has a very extreme view both of Planned Parenthood and reproductive and sexual health services, and he made that clear in his statement after cutting Medicaid that this really was an ideological fight for him,” she said. “But at the same time he can have the added benefit of distracting people in the state from how serious the problems are in Kansas right now, as if access to Medicaid is at the heart of what's troubling Kansas right now.”

Asked to respond, Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said in an email, “The governor called for defunding Planned Parenthood in his 2016 State of the State address to protect the unborn and support a culture of life in Kansas. Planned Parenthood has been fully informed of the reasons for this decision, including its own refusal to submit to a lawful inspection of their premises.”

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said it did cooperate with the inspection, although it refused to allow inspectors to take photographs out of concern for patients’ and staff’s privacy and safety.

McQuade said that Planned Parenthood was expecting the cutoff; Brownback had attacked the organization in his January State of the State address and directed health officials to end its participation in the state’s Medicaid program, known as KanCare.

“Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of baby body parts is antithetical to our belief in human dignity,” Brownback said in his address, apparently referring to undercover videos made by an anti-abortion group that purported to demonstrate that Planned Parenthood affiliates illegally sell fetal tissue.

A dozen states, including Kansas and Missouri, have investigated that claim and none have found wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.

“We’ve known for a long time that this was coming,” McQuade said of the Medicaid cutoff. “The governor was very public in his State of the State in early January. To be honest, we were somewhat surprised that it took him that long to show his hand.”

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment notified McQuade’s organization last week that its Medicaid funding would be terminated on May 10. But after Planned Parenthood sued KDHE administrator Susan Mosier the next day, KDHE agreed to hold off the termination for another two weeks.

“They extended the termination date until May 24, which is really obvious that this is not a public health issue. It really is all to do with politics,” McQuade said. “So we are accepting Medicaid, and we feel confident we're going to win the lawsuit … because this is a total violation of the free choice-of-provider provision in the Medicaid Act.”

The state’s action came just weeks after the Obama administration sent letters to all 50 states warning them that terminating Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood may violate federal law.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri sees about 500 Medicaid patients a year, McQuade said. The state’s cutoff of Medicaid funding would affect not just those 500, she said, but a potentially larger pool of patients if Kansas decides to expand Medicaid eligibility in the future. Kansas is one of 19 states that so far have not expanded Medicaid eligibility.

“This is about the potential to provide as much coverage as we can in the Kansas community, which we really feel is coming, even if not this year then in the next couple of years,” McQuade said. “The impact would be tremendous if we would not be able to provide services.”

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri operates six clinics, including one that provides abortion services, in greater Kansas City, Columbia, Missouri, and Wichita, Kansas. In 2014, it served more than 20,000 patients, according to its website.

It recently expanded into three new health service areas, including pre- and post-menopausal care, transgender care and PrEp care, a preventative that lowers the chance of contracting HIV for patients who have a high risk of infection.

The organization is not only under attack in Kansas; it’s also under assault in Missouri, where lawmakers spurned more than $8 million in Medicaid funding for statewide family planning, STD and other reproductive health services, replaced the money with state general revenues and stipulated that none of it could be directed to organizations that provide abortions.

Missouri’s state health agency has sought to revoke the abortion license of Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic, but a federal judge blocked the move late last year pending a hearing on the merits.

Missouri’s action came after the University of Missouri canceled the hospital admitting privileges of the physician performing medication-induced abortions at the Columbia clinic. Planned Parenthood said the university submitted to political pressure from Missouri lawmakers.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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