Archive for Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kansas: Few answers in wake of Planned Parenthood case

May 13, 2014

— The fate of two Kansas clinics remains uncertain in the wake of last week’s decision by Planned Parenthood to drop its legal challenge to a state law that stripped them of federal family planning money, but federal and state health officials said Monday they are committed to ensuring family planning services continue to be offered.

More than 5,700 people receive reproductive health care services at the affected Planned Parenthood clinics in Hays and Wichita.

On Monday, a federal court in Wichita formally closed the case brought by Planned Parenthood challenging a Kansas law that requires the state to first allocate Title X money to public health departments and hospitals, which leaves no funds for specialty family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Elise Higgins said it will likely be later this week before any decision is made public about the affected clinics.

Court documents show those two nonprofit clinics were operating at a loss even before losing the $330,000 annual influx of funds from Title X, a federally financed family planning program. The Title X money targets low-income people seeking reproductive services such as birth control, pregnancy testing, cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. It cannot be used for abortions.

While Planned Parenthood is not saying much now, earlier court filings offer a glimpse at the potential impact of any decision on patients, many who are low-income. Each year, those services included: 9,000 birth control visits, 3,000 pap tests, 3,000 breast exams, and 18,000 tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Planned Parenthood told the court in 2011 that without the federal funding it will be required to discontinue its sliding fee scale for low-income patients, increase charges to clients, fire employees and likely close its clinic in Hays.

“We are looking right now at making sure people across Kansas have access to family planning services and we will continue to evaluate to make sure these people still have access to family planning services,” said Sara Belfry, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “We have other providers.”

Belfry conceded Monday that defunding the Planned Parenthood clinics leaves Ellis County without a Title X health care provider, but she said another clinic there could apply for Title X funding. She also suggested the Sedgwick County Health Department could fill the gap in Wichita. But it is unclear how Sedgwick County could absorb more than double its patient population to meet the family planning needs of the 4,000 Planned Parenthood patients served in the Wichita area.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an emailed statement Monday it is committed to ensuring women receive high-quality affordable contraceptive care, cancer and HIV screenings, health education, and referrals to other health and social services through the Title X program.

“Therefore, we will assure that services continue to be provided in the geographic areas and to the populations listed in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s funded Title X application,” said HHS spokeswoman Tara Broido.

During the lawsuit, Kansas health officials disclosed that HHS had sent the state a letter expressing concern about continued access to Title X family planning by Kansans who lived in certain areas of the state. If HHS determines Kansas is unable to fulfill the terms of the grant — for example, if the state cannot serve a particular geographic area or population for which funding was received — the agency could disallow funding or deny it future funding.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten temporarily blocked enforcement of the state law in 2011 until the case was resolved. But a sharply divided panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned Marten’s rulings in March, and Planned Parenthood filed a stipulation late Friday seeking dismissal of its case.

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