Health Department decision on Planned Parenthood draws fire

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — State lawmakers and other abortion opponents are protesting a decision by the Minnesota Department of Health granting special status to Planned Parenthood of Minnesota-South Dakota.
The department recently gave Planned Parenthood “essential community provider status.” The special designation means health plans can’t decline to work with the agency.
Since then, the department has received nearly 100 letters objecting to that action, even though the special status does not require health plans to pay for any abortion services that Planned Parenthood provides.
As word of the designation spreads, Health Commissioner Anne Barry said she expects her department to be deluged with feedback.
Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, claimed the designation prevents health plans from restricting access to Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
“No health plan should be forced to provide abortion services to its members and abortion services should not be considered essential or mainstream health services under Minnesota law,” Johnson said in a letter to Barry.
Sen. Thomas Neuville, R-Northfield, said he and other members of the anti-abortion movement “find it hard to understand how abortion can be an essential medical service.”
But Tom Webber, Planned Parenthood’s president, said the 1994 law that created the special designation expressly singles out abortion as a service not covered by the legislation.
“The law has been on the books for four years and it’s very clear,” Webber said. “It specifically excludes abortions. I cannot fathom why anyone with an ounce of brains would question that.”
When the law was passed, Minnesota’s health-care landscape was being engulfed by three big health plans. To prevent small providers from being driven out, lawmakers authorized the Health Department to grant “essential community provider status” to agencies and programs that meet certain criteria.
Among other things, they must be nonprofits with a demonstrated ability to provide care for uninsured, high-risk and special-needs populations. They also must not restrict services because of a client’s financial limitations.
About 100 programs and agencies across the state have the special designation. They include clinics in rural areas, inner cities and on Indian reservations, as well as programs that provide health-care services to poor people and people of color, Barry said.
Barry said Planned Parenthood, which operates 21 clinics in the two states, meets the law’s criteria by providing a wide range of services to a high-risk population while basing its fees on a patient’s income.
Webber said he doubts critics of the designation misread the legislation.
“I don’t think it’s a misunderstanding but a calculated, intentional scheme to mislead the people. It’s disingenuous. We cannot let the issue of abortion interfere with other critical services. It’s nuts,” he said.