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State abortion law stirs debate on health care

Updated: October 28, 2011 11:38AM



INDIANAPOLIS — Supporters and opponents of Indiana’s new law eliminating Medicaid funding for abortion providers have painted starkly different pictures of Medicaid recipients’ options for finding birth control, cancer screening and other services under the law.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, who signed the law May 10, has said low-income women can turn to about 800 Medicaid providers that don’t perform abortions to obtain reproductive health services.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana — the law’s main target — has conceded numerous health centers statewide provide sexual health services, but its president says the agency’s review of Daniels’ list found many don’t take new Medicaid patients or have long waits for appointments. Others, she said, are far from the Planned Parenthood clinics many have relied on for years, posing extra transportation costs for low-income patients, particularly those in rural areas.

“It’s very rarely going to be an apples and apples situation if our patients need to turn to another provider,” president and CEO Betty Cockrum said. “It simply makes no sense to make it more difficult for low-income patients to get reproductive health care.”

Planned Parenthood has sued the state to block the law and is awaiting a federal judge’s ruling, expected by July 1.

Indiana’s defunding law effects 34 facilities, and Planned Parenthood operates 28 of those in 21 counties. Four of its clinics — those in Bloomington, Indianapolis, Lafayette and Merrillville — provide abortions. Planned Parenthood said it has about 9,300 Medicaid patients in Indiana.

State Sen. Scott Schneider, an Indianapolis Republican who sponsored the measure to defund Planned Parenthood, accused it of sounding a “false alarm” over women’s access to health care and trying to portray itself as the only legitimate source of reproductive health care for low-income women.

He said he had not heard of any of the service limits that Cockrum said Planned Parenthood’s review identified, and his office found 127 health centers in Indiana that would readily accept Medicaid patients and offer reproductive and sexual health services.

“Their claim of lack of service I think is hyperbole and typical political rhetoric on the part of Planned Parenthood,” Schneider said. “There are numerous qualified providers statewide.”

Since Planned Parenthood lost its Medicaid funding on May 10, it has been paying for those patients’ care with private donations that totaled more than $100,000. But that money ran out Monday, and on Tuesday Planned Parenthood began turning away Medicaid patients unable to pay on their own or without some other means to cover the bill.

The state’s Family and Social Services Administration has been working to help Medicaid recipients who once used Planned Parenthood’s clinics find alternative care, FSSA spokesman Marcus Barlow said. But he also said the agency has not seen a significant increase since Tuesday in calls from residents enrolled in the state-federal health insurance program for low-income and disabled people.

A message on Indiana Medicaid’s website alerts recipients to the new law and provides the numbers of other health care providers, but Barlow said workers also have been helping Medicaid recipients find care.

“Rather than giving people a list of providers and then just expecting them to cold-call people, we actually refer them to a provider,” he said.

Hoagland Elliott, the executive director of the Raphael Health Center, said the clinic on Indianapolis’ near north side has “ample capacity” to accept new Medicaid recipients seeking birth control, cancer screenings and other sexual health care. He said patients are typically seen on the same day and any that can’t be fit in are seen the next day.

“You’re pretty much guaranteed to get in here within 48 hours, but not all centers do it that way,” Elliott said. “Some schedule just like a doctor’s office does, days ahead.”

He said the Raphael center — and all of Indiana’s other of the federally qualified health care centers — provide the same services as Planned Parenthood, aside from abortions. The Raphael center hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in Medicaid recipients since Planned Parenthood’s private funding ran out.



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