The Trump administration is overturning Obama-era advisories aimed at preventing states from cutting Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.
The administration is rescinding an April 2016 letter that the Obama administration sent to states warning them that restricting Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood could violate federal law. Administration officials said Friday it is rescinding the guidance to give states more flexibility over how they manage Medicaid.
“States who run Medicaid jointly have had a say in whether providers in borders eligible to participate in Medicaid program,” said Charmaine Yoest, assistant secretary for public affairs at Health and Human Services.
The Obama administration sent the 2016 letter after 10 states moved to end Medicaid funding to the women’s health and abortion provider. States targeted Planned Parenthood in response to a series of undercover videos from an anti-abortion activist that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation and harvesting of aborted fetal tissue.
It is against the law to profit off the sale of aborted fetal tissue and Planned Parenthood charged that it was only reimbursed for transportation by research facilities receiving the tissue.
Courts have blocked efforts by states to defund Planned Parenthood.
A senior administration official said that the new guidance only goes back to appropriate legal standards before the 2016 letter.
It also provides state flexibility without the federal government “putting a thumb on the scale,” the official said.
Administration officials also gave more detail on the creation of a new division of HHS’ Office of Civil Rights. The division will focus on religious liberty, specifically in fielding complaints from healthcare providers that they are forced by supervisors to do procedures that violate their religious or moral beliefs like abortions.
The administration is putting out a new regulation Friday that details the 25 areas that deal with conscience and religious freedom. The statutory provisions are in federal law, but “in previous years weren’t enforced at all,” said Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights. “The statutes we are talking about focus on actions that providers say they cannot do in good conscience.”
He gave examples of abortion and assisted suicide.
Severino said that the word is out that religious liberty complaints are being heard. He said that so far this year HHS has received 34 complaints from healthcare providers. This was compared to the prior average of 1.25 complaints per year.
“We opened the doors and that we will actually take your complaints seriously,” Severino said.
However, critics charge that the new office will lead to doctors being allowed to not treat lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
The announcements Friday coincide with a major gathering of anti-abortion activists for the March for Life.