PHOENIX (CN) — Planned Parenthood Arizona, doctors and women sued the state’s Medicaid director in Federal Court, claiming a pending state law will prevent Medicaid recipients from choosing the doctor of their choice.
House Bill 2599, signed into law in May by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, allows the director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to cut off funding to medical providers if they do not separate Medicaid funding from abortion services. The law is to go into effect on Aug. 6.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the plaintiffs say the law will exclude doctors and clinics from AHCCCS, limiting their ability to provide women’s health services to Medicaid recipients.
“Long-standing policy at the state and federal level prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to subsidize abortions,” Ducey spokeswoman Annie Dockendorff said in a statement.
“This bill is in line with that policy, and will not affect anyone who is operating in accordance with the law. This is consistent with the governor’s track record of protecting Arizona taxpayers, who overwhelmingly do not want to see their hard-earned dollars being spent on abortions.”
The plaintiffs disagree.
“This law is yet another attempt to intimidate doctors who provide abortion and to punish low-income women in particular,” ACLU attorney Jennifer Lee said in a statement.
“The state is playing politics with women’s health and is threatening to prevent low-income women from obtaining vital health services, including pregnancy care, contraceptives, and cancer screenings. Depriving women of that access simply because they are enrolled in Medicaid is not only illegal, it’s immoral.”
Arizona passed a similar law in 2012, House Bill 2800, which sought to stop AHCCCS patients from receiving cancer screenings, family planning and gynecological exams from providers that also performed abortions.
Planned Parenthood sued, and in 2013 the Ninth Circuit agreed that it violated the federal Medicaid Act.
“The Arizona law violates this requirement by precluding Medicaid patients from using medical providers concededly qualified to perform family planning services to patients in Arizona generally, solely on the basis that those providers separately perform privately funded, legal abortions,” Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon wrote.
The new lawsuit says Arizona knows that Medicaid statutes bar states from excluding abortion providers from Medicaid.
In a letter to all state Medicaid directors in April, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Vikki Wachino said that states are limited in their ability to take actions against medical providers, due to a “free choice of provider” provision.
“T)his provision limits a state’s authority to establish qualification standards, or take certain actions against a provider, unless those standards or actions are related to the fitness of the provider to perform covered medical services — i.e., its capability to perform the required services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner — or the ability of the provider to appropriately bill for those services,” Wachino wrote.
Planned Parenthood says the pending law also violates the 14th Amendment “because it does not give the provider plaintiffs fair notice of what they must do to comply … and it also disqualifies provider plaintiffs from receiving government funds because they provide constitutionally protected abortions.”
The law also violates the Equal Protection Clause, as “it singles out for unfair treatment only Medicaid providers who provide constitutionally protected abortions,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and an injunction to stop the state from enforcing the law.
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