Justice Department sides with Planned Parenthood in lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 12:44 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department told a federal judge that Gov. Bobby Jindal's decision to oust Planned Parenthood from Louisiana's Medicaid program appears to violate federal law by denying Medicaid patients the right to choose their health care providers.

In a court filing, the agency said the Jindal administration hasn't offered "sufficient reasons" to keep Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge from receiving Medicaid payments.

Removing Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program "without providing any justification related to (the organization's) qualifications to provide medical services would violate Louisiana's obligations under the Medicaid statute's 'free choice of provider' provision," the Justice Department wrote.

The legal brief, called a "statement of interest," was filed Monday night ahead of a Wednesday hearing to determine whether Planned Parenthood will get a temporary restraining order blocking Jindal's efforts.

Jindal, a Republican presidential candidate, announced this month he was cutting off funding to the Planned Parenthood clinics, citing hidden-camera videos that accuse the organization of profiting from fetal tissue sales after abortions.

Planned Parenthood denies the allegations, saying the videos are heavily edited and misleading. The organization filed a lawsuit seeking to stay in Louisiana's Medicaid program, saying Jindal's decision will limit health services in violation of federal law.

The Jindal administration has said its authority rests in a provision in state law that allows cancellation of a Medicaid provider agreement with 30-day notice.

But the Justice Department called that claim "wholly without merit," saying Louisiana cannot rely on a state law to justify Planned Parenthood's ousting, but must show that the clinics aren't able to perform Medicaid services or properly bill for them.

Louisiana can't simply argue that the providers agreed in state contracts that they can be removed "at-will" and give up any right to sue when removed because they signed the arrangements, the Justice Department said.

"States do not have unfettered discretion to determine that a provider is not 'qualified' for purposes of federal Medicaid law," the agency wrote.

The Justice Department also disagreed with the Jindal administration's claims that Planned Parenthood improperly filed a lawsuit when it should have complained to the federal Medicaid agency.

The Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood are set to end Wednesday unless U.S. District Judge John deGravelles intervenes.

Federal courts have overturned previous attempts in Arizona and Indiana to disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.

Planned Parenthood has filed a similar lawsuit in Alabama, where Gov. Robert Bentley has sought to cut off Medicaid payments to the organization's clinics.