JEFFERSON CITY — U.S. Rep. Cori Bush is asking the Biden administration to intervene in an attempt by Gov. Mike Parson and the Republican-led Legislature to withhold funding to Missouri’s lone abortion provider.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the St. Louis Democrat asks for the administration to ensure that none of the actions taken by the state interfere with patients’ right to health care.
“As the Congresswoman for Missouri’s First District, a Black woman who has utilized Medicaid and also faced systemic barriers in accessing health care, and a nurse who has worked on the frontlines of patient care, I urge the administration to denounce all actions that prevent Medicaid patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood and any other abortion-providing health centers,” Bush said.
In October, Parson’s administration issued an emergency rule designed to give agencies under his control a tool to close down Planned Parenthood.
The rule, which went into effect Oct. 13, allows state agencies to share health inspection reports with another, potentially making it easier for the state to withhold funding. It’s part of the ongoing push by the Republican administration and the GOP-controlled Legislature to put Planned Parenthood out of business.
Planned Parenthood earlier said the rule may not pass muster with the federal government, which has the power to block decisions by states on how Medicaid dollars are spent.
The rule comes after a July hearing of a state Senate panel formed to determine if Planned Parenthood could be “defunded.”
At the hearing, agency heads told senators the departments were devising new regulations that could work to block funding for providers found out of compliance with state standards.
The new rule would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services, which inspects abortion facilities, to share information with the Department of Social Services, which would then be able to potentially sanction Medicaid providers based on the information, officials said.
Planned Parenthood operates the state’s only abortion facility in St. Louis. While Medicaid doesn’t pay for abortions, the administration’s goal is to strip funding from all Planned Parenthood clinics across the state.
Bush said the effect of the rule would hurt her constituents.
“It is yet another desperate attempt by state leaders to punish people with low-incomes — disproportionately people of color, women, and people living in rural Missouri — for accessing birth control, life-saving cancer screenings, and other preventive health care at Planned Parenthood.”
The rule change is just the latest attempt to target Planned Parenthood by the Parson administration.
In 2019, the state said Planned Parenthood had failed an inspection of its St. Louis facility. But the state lost the ensuing lawsuit and was ordered to pay the provider more than $140,000 in legal fees.
In a 97-page decision, former Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi ruled that Planned Parenthood met the requirements for renewal of its abortion facility license in St. Louis.
“Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care. In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” Dandamudi wrote.
Parson later replaced Dandamudi as a commissioner.
During the spring legislative session, conservatives in the Senate held up passage of a tax on health care providers that generates about $4 billion of the state’s $11 billion Medicaid budget, by demanding bans on funds going to abortion providers and affiliates.
That effort ultimately failed.
In her letter, Bush said the presence of the rule is becoming more urgent by the day because of an expansion of Medicaid eligibility that began in October.
“Now that 275,000 more Missourians are eligible for Medicaid, blocking access to Planned Parenthood could break our already fragile safety net system,” Bush said.
Bush is seeking a response from the administration by Jan. 10.