A controversial Indiana law that would keep low-income women from using federal Medicaid benefits to receive any kind of reproductive medical care from Planned Parenthood is unacceptable because it denies women the freedom to choose their health care providers, according to a federal hearing officer.
In June 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services ruled the state law, which would alter the way Medicaid is run in Indiana, violates federal laws, making it unacceptable.
The state has argued the law, HEA 1210, simply intended to block Medicaid money from going toward abortions, and filed an administrative appeal to CMS to reassess the ruling.
"Like any other petitioner who is entitled to a hearing, the State of Indiana appreciated the opportunity to try to explain to CMS the Indiana Legislature's public policy decision that private providers ought not indirectly subsidize abortion procedures through Medicaid dollars and that the legislation had that separation in mind," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement.
Overseeing the administrative appeal, Hearing Officer Benjamin Cohen said that the law violated a federal requirement that individuals must have the liberty to obtain care from any qualified provider, and recommended CMS administrators uphold their original ruling.
"Indiana's own Legislative Services Agency advised prior to the passage of HEA 1210 that, in fact, 'Federal law permits states to define a qualified provider, but requires that this definition is related to a provider's ability to perform a service and not what services are provided,'" Cohen wrote in his recommendation.
The restrictive state law, signed in May 2011 by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, was designed to keep clinics run by Planned Parenthood from performing abortions, because any that did so would lose virtually all Medicaid-funded business.
In addition to the Medicare restrictions, the bill also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, with exceptions for the life or health of the mother.
"CMS has informed Indiana that their proposed Amendment is not in compliance with federal law. 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," CMS said in a statement.
The attorney general's office pointed out in its own statement, it still has a chance to file an exception to Cohen's recommendation before the CMS Administrators makes a final decision.
Federal law already bans Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in most instances, but Indiana's law is more restrictive. The measure specifically blocks the Indiana Department of Health from signing contracts with any group performing abortions, with the exception of hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.
"We are gratified by the federal government's decision and thrilled that (Planned Parenthood of Indiana) continues to be able to provide preventive health care to our patients. Through its appeal, the State was continuing its attack on women's rights and attempting to restrict access to basic, lifesaving services such as Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing and treatment, and birth control," said Planned Parenthood of Indiana President and CEO Betty Cockrum.
When HEA 1210 was signed into law in 2011, Planned Parenthood sought an injunction to block enforcement until appeals could be filed and won the legal challenge.
The Indiana attorney general's office appealed to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and that ruling is still pending.