Bill to expand family planning services amended, advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Feb. 7 to a bill intended to expand eligibility for the state’s publicly-funded family planning services.

Under LB540, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, the state Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS] would be required to submit a state plan amendment or waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), no later than July 1, 2011, to provide medical assistance for family planning services to individuals with a family earned income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairperson of the committee, said testimony during the bill’s hearing indicated that 27 states utilize the family planning expansion allowed by CMS. The number of abortions in Minnesota has dropped significantly since providing these services to low-income and high-risk women, she said.

“The importance of reaching low-income women to provide good education to them is significant,” Campbell said. “This is an important health issue.”

A committee amendment, adopted 29-1, clarifies that no state funds would be used to pay for abortion services and changed the application deadline to July 1, 2012.

Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton offered an amendment to the committee amendment that would prohibit state funds from being used to promote elective abortion services.

The amendment further would require DHHS to ensure that any funds received under the waiver or state plan amendment would not be spent or used in any way to contract with any entity that performs or promotes elective abortion services or with any entity that affiliates with any entity that performs or promotes elective abortions.

Fulton said 27 clinics in the state provide family planning services but only two clinics perform abortions.

“What I don’t want to happen is that those entities that perform abortions can apprehend these dollars,” he said. “I want to draw a bright line between those that perform abortions and those that do not.”

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist supported the amendment, saying taxpayer dollars should not go to an organization that performs abortions. For example, he said, it would be difficult to ensure that funds provided to Planned Parenthood for other family planning services were kept separate from funds used for abortion services.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar opposed the amendment. Government regularly gives money to organizations that are able to segregate those funds successfully, he said, citing religious organizations that also provide social service functions.

“The group that by far and away gets the most public funding of any nonprofit in the United States is Catholic Social Services,” Haar said.

Omaha Sen. Brenda Council also opposed the Fulton amendment, saying any waiver application that included the Fulton amendment’s language would be denied by CMS. She said federal law prohibits states from restricting funding to an entity that provides services to those who meet Medicaid guidelines simply because of other services that entity also may provide.

The Fulton amendment was adopted on a 25-8 vote.

An amendment offered by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr would have prohibited funds appropriated or distributed under the waiver from being used for abortion, abortion counseling or a referral for abortion or any operational costs of a facility that provides abortion, abortion counseling or a referral for abortion.

Harr said his amendment would accomplish the same goal as Fulton’s amendment, but with clearer language that would not violate federal law.

The Harr amendment failed on a vote of 11-19.

Campbell said she hoped to work with all interested parties before select file debate, saying it is critical that the state expand family planning services to more low-income women.

“We very much need to address the eligibility of women in this program,” she said.

Senators voted 28-5 to advance the LB540.

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