The U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing late Monday (Aug. 31) that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to cancel Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s contract appears to be in violation of the federal Medicaid Act.
The legal brief — which the department said was filed on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — comes two days before Planned Parenthood and the Jindal administration are set to square off in federal court. Planned Parenthood plans to ask a federal judge for an injunction barring Jindal from defunding the organization by pulling its Medicaid funding.
Jindal said he was canceling Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid contract after a series ofvideos produced by an anti-abortion group were released in July.
The Department of Justice’s filling says that the Jindal administration has not done enough to show why Planned Parenthood’s contract should be canceled, making it in violation of laws allowing patients on Medicaid to choose their medical provider. The Justice Department brief, in several aspects, supports Planned Parenthood’s efforts to convince a judge to issue an injunction blocking Jindal from carrying out the organization’s contract cancellation.
“Louisiana has not proffered sufficient reasons to terminate Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast from its Medicaid program,” the Justice Department said in a “statement of interest” to the Middle District of Louisiana federal court. “Terminating (Planned Parenthood) from its Medicaid program without providing any justification … would violate Louisiana’s obligations under the Medicaid statute by denying Medicaid beneficiaries of their right to obtain medical care from the qualified providers of their choice.”
The Jindal administration has argued that because there is an “at-will” provision in the organization’s contract, it can cancel the contract at any time. But the Department of Justice says that’s not enough reason to cancel a contract.
The Jindal administration has said that once the contract with Planned Parenthood is canceled, it renders the organization unqualified to operate in Louisiana as a Medicaid health care provider. Planned Parenthood has countered that defunding would cut off access to as many as 5,200 patients and possibly shutter its Baton Rouge clinic — one of two in the state.
“States do not have unfettered discretion to determine that a provider is not ‘qualified’ for purposes of federal Medicaid law,” the Justice Department wrote.
The Justice Department goes on to say that for decades, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “has repeatedly and consistently interpreted the “qualified” language … to prohibit a State from denying access to a provider for reasons unrelated to the ability of that provider to perform Medicaid-covered services.”
The Justice Department also strongly questions whether the Jindal administration has any basis for stripping Planned Parenthood of its Medicaid funding. And the effect of Louisiana’s defunding, the Justice Department said, removes the free choice that Congress expressly intended to grant Medicaid patients when selecting their healthcare provider.
“Louisiana’s interpretation of its obligations … is both implausible on its face and impossible to reconcile with the cases that have interpreted the free choice of provider requirement,” the Justice Department wrote. “It is not plausible that Congress went to the effort to mandate that states provide beneficiaries with the right to select their providers (particularly and expressly in the context of family planning services), carefully defined the exceptions to this rule, but then left states essentially unlimited residual authority to curtail beneficiary choice.”
The Justice Department’s brief is not the first time the administration has been warned about cutting Planned Parenthood funding. Federal officials told the administration earlier this month that the contract’s cancellation was not legal.
The Jindal administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.