Government & Politics

Planned Parenthood sues Kansas, challenging Brownback's order to cut off funding

A letter from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday informed Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri that it was being terminated as a provider under Medicaid.
A letter from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday informed Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri that it was being terminated as a provider under Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a decision by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to cut off Medicaid reimbursements to the organization.

A letter from the state Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday informed Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri that it was being terminated as a provider under Medicaid.

The lawsuit, filed against the state in the U.S. District Court for Kansas, said state officials provided “no possible legitimate basis” for the decision.

“We never cease to be surprised by the extent to which the governor will use his office to abuse authority to further an extreme political agenda,” said Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Brownback had vowed in his State of the State speech in January to make sure that “not a single dollar of taxpayer money goes to Planned Parenthood” through the state’s Medicaid program. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has been working for several months on the termination.

The letter from the department to Planned Parenthood cited several reasons for ending Medicaid reimbursements to the organization, including “noncompliance with applicable state laws” and “unethical or unprofessional conduct.”

The governor took the action against Planned Parenthood “in order to protect the unborn and support a culture of life in Kansas,” said Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokeswoman.

“Planned Parenthood has been fully informed of the reasons for this decision, including their own refusal to submit to a lawful inspection of their premises,” Hawley said.

McQuade said the administration’s reasons were “bogus and unfounded.”

A dispute arose about a December inspection of Planned Parenthood’s Overland Park facility, with the state saying its waste inspector was prevented from completing the inspection and taking photographs. McQuade said Planned Parenthood had concerns about patient privacy. She said ultimately the organization cooperated and complied with the inspection.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has clinics in Overland Park and Wichita plus clinics on the Missouri side of the Kansas City area. Medicaid funds for low-income and disabled recipients cover health exams, family planning services and cancer screenings, but Medicaid does not cover abortions.

Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri were about $56,000 in 2014 and $38,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Health and Environment.

McQuade said the organization serves about 500 Medicaid patients each year and about 10,000 Kansans overall.

In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said that without state Medicaid funds, the group may be forced to lay off staff, reduce hours or close a health center.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter two weeks ago to state Medicaid directors affirming that recipients must have a “free choice of provider.”

In his State of the State speech, Brownback repeated the widely discredited claim that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal “body parts.”

But McQuade said Brownback’s comments weren’t backed up even by his state agencies.

“Gov. Brownback’s own administration, including the Board of Healing Arts and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, vindicated Planned Parenthood of the egregious allegations made against it in 2015,” McQuade said in a statement earlier Wednesday.

“This is not over,” she said. “Our doors are open today, they’ll be open tomorrow and we’ll fight this with everything we’ve got.”

Brownback is staunchly anti-abortion and has long opposed Planned Parenthood.

Since 2011 when he took office, Brownback has blocked Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri from receiving more than $300,000 a year in federal funds for nonabortion, family planning services under a different federal program for low-income patients. The Legislature approved a bill in its just-completed 2016 session to make that policy permanent.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said Brownback’s Medicaid decision is a threat to those seeking preventive health care such as cancer screenings and health exams.

“Many Kansas women and men rely on Planned Parenthood as the provider of those services,” Kubic said.

The Associated Press and The Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld

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