Indianapolis Star Tribune: Planned Parenthood to serve Medicaid patients through month's end

This article originally appeared online at Indianapolis Star Tribune on May 20, 2011.

Planned Parenthood to serve Medicaid patients through month’s end
By Heather Gillers

Planned Parenthood of Indiana will continue to serve Medicaid patients through the end of May using private donations — gifts that have spiked as Americans on both sides of the abortion debate turn their attention to the Hoosier state.

Anti-abortion activists won a major victory here this month when Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill prohibiting Indiana Medicaid patients from using their government health plan at Planned Parenthood. Indiana is the first state to cut off Medicaid funds to the health-care provider.

Planned Parenthood is challenging the constitutionality of the new law. A judge is expected to decide by July 1 whether to keep the law in effect while the court is hearing the case or to place it on hold — and let Medicaid funds flow to Planned Parenthood — until the final verdict.

In the interim, Planned Parenthood of Indiana, which typically receives roughly $1.3 million a year to serve its 9,300 Medicaid patients, is trying to use contributions to cover those costs.

“This is a temporary fix, and these one-time donations will not continue indefinitely,” Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said Thursday. “We’re getting these donations because people are outraged, as they should be.”

The health-care provider has received about $50,000 in donations since the last week of April, when the legislature approved cutting off the organization’s funding, said spokeswoman Kate Shepherd. Money has come from 44 states, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Abortion-rights supporters are not the only ones paying attention to Indiana. Anti-abortion activists see the state as a trailblazer.

“Indiana’s the first domino, but there will be many to fall after that,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion and supports ending government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The health-care provider does not use the funds for abortions; it uses them to pay for contraception, Pap tests and disease screenings for low-income patients. But backers of defunding measures do not want their tax dollars going to an organization that performs abortions.

“Indiana proved it could be done,” Dannenfelser said, “and these other state legislatures like Wisconsin can point to what Indiana did and say we have a chance to do the right thing.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana receives about $3 million per year in taxpayer funds. In addition to the Medicaid money, the state is trying to cut off about $150,000 the group receives for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

The defunding law has already forced Planned Parenthood of Indiana to cut back, even with the outpouring of financial support. It no longer accepts new Medicaid patients and has stopped offering some forms of long-term birth control, such as intrauterine devices, that are more costly.

Indianapolis resident Tishana Ellis arrived at Planned Parenthood’s Meridian Street location Thursday for a scheduled consultation about an intrauterine device. But when she got to the waiting room, she was told her Medicaid plan no longer lets her receive that service at Planned Parenthood.

“It’s like, ‘OK. So now what do I do?’ ” said Ellis, 35, a former teacher who moved back to her native Indianapolis from Barbados with her husband at the end of last year and has since had trouble finding work. She has been visiting Planned Parenthood on and off since she was 14.

“My husband and I, we have a 2-year-old right now,” she said, “and we’re not really ready financially to support another child at this time. We’re doing the birth control pill, but sometimes I forget.”

She decided not to get the consultation Thursday and rescheduled it for June. By then, she hopes it will be clear if she can continue to use her Medicaid plan at Planned Parenthood.

The next hearing in the case is set for June 6 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

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