Senate Democrats pushed back against states trying to keep federal money from reaching abortion providers on Thursday, asking the government to notify state Medicaid programs that there will be penalties for withholding funds.
Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., signed a law earlier this month to cut off federal funding from Indiana clinics that perform abortions. The law is primarily aimed at the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, which get federal family-planning grants to administer non-abortion services.
The federal dollars are not allowed to be used for abortions, but supporters of the restrictions argue that any federal funding to Planned Parenthood indirectly supports abortion services.
“We respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issue guidance to state Medicaid directors clarifying that taking action to exclude family planning clinics that provide abortion services from Medicaid participation, such as Planned Parenthood, will lead to compliance actions,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Another 29 Senate Democrats signed the letter.
Federal penalties could be a steep price to pay for many states. The federal government pays, on average, half of each state’s Medicaid costs. In Indiana, the federal government is estimated to shoulder more than 66 percent of Medicaid costs.
The senators said the Indiana law would keep Medicaid enrollees from getting all available care, which violates the program’s promise. “The restrictions threatened by state legislatures blatantly contradict the spirit and letter of well-established and long-accepted law,” said the letter.
“We write not to ask support for new law, but for vigorous, prompt enforcement of existing law.”
Want the news first every morning? Sign up for National Journal’s Need-to-Know Memo. Short items to prepare you for the day.