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Louisiana officials try new path to block Planned Parenthood

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is trying a new approach to remove Planned Parenthood from the state's Medicaid program, this time saying it has a reason to block the organization's clinics.

Jindal, an anti-abortion Republican running for president in 2016, had initially ended Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans without providing a reason. The administration said state law allowed cancellation with a 30-day notice.

But a federal judge questioned that reasoning last week, asking the health department why it was appropriate to oust the organization if its clinics were competent to provide health care services. Planned Parenthood and three of its patients had filed a lawsuit, asking U.S. District Judge John deGravelles to consider halting Jindal's maneuver.

In response, the Jindal administration has changed its plans and told deGravelles, according to court documents, that it will block Planned Parenthood's clinics from the Medicaid program for cause. The administration effort is intended to force an end to the current lawsuit.

On Friday, the state Department of Health and Hospitals cited Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's $4.3 million settlement of false claims allegations in neighboring Texas as reason to kill its Louisiana Medicaid contract.

"During the course of the state investigation into Planned Parenthood, it was discovered that Planned Parenthood is in violation of long-standing administrative rules applicable to Medicaid providers," health department spokeswoman Olivia Watkins Hwang said in a statement.

In August 2013, a Texas U.S. attorney's office announced a civil settlement with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in response to allegations the organization billed government programs for services that weren't medically necessary or that weren't provided.

Planned Parenthood didn't admit guilt in the settlement, and the Texas announcement said "the claims settled by this agreement are allegations only." But Hwang said Louisiana regulations deem such a settlement agreement in violation of state Medicaid provider rules.

Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said the administration's actions were driven by Jindal's presidential ambitions.

"It is shameful that Gov. Jindal is trying to score political points by blocking women's access to critical, lifesaving health care," she said in a statement.

When he announced last month that he intended to oust Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program, Jindal cited hidden-camera videos by an anti-abortion group that accuse the organization of profiting from fetal tissue sales elsewhere in the country.

Planned Parenthood denies the allegations that it is selling fetal tissue for profit, saying the videos are misleading, and it said Jindal's actions in response to the videos were illegal under federal law. The U.S. Justice Department sided with Planned Parenthood, saying Louisiana hadn't met the criteria in federal law for removing a Medicaid provider.

Planned Parenthood says 5,200 low-income Medicaid patients obtain services through their two Louisiana clinics. The organization doesn't currently provide abortions in Louisiana, but offers cancer screenings, gynecology exams, sexually transmitted disease treatment and other health services.


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