Ernst, Black Voice Opposition to HHS Rule that Would Prevent States from Defunding Planned Parenthood

By Lauretta Brown | September 26, 2016 | 3:49 PM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell (Associated Press)

( – Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) sent a letter Friday to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell in which they voiced strong opposition to HHS’s proposed rule which would effectively prevent states from defunding abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

As previously reported, HHS released the proposed rule earlier this month, which seeks to ban any recipient of Title X federal funding for family planning from excluding potential funding recipients “for reasons unrelated to its ability to provide services effectively.”

According to the HHS document, studies have shown that state actions to exclude specific family planning providers cause “reduced use of highly effective methods of contraception and corresponding increases in rates of childbirth among populations that rely on federally supported care.”

Ernst and Black wrote that “HHS’s purpose for engaging in the rulemaking appears on its face to be an attempt to subvert the will of elected representatives.”

They also “question whether the Department’s stated rationale adequately supports its conclusion that providers with a reproductive health focus are more ‘effective’ than other health providers that offer comprehensive care for women and men.” 

They pointed out that the data cited in the rulemaking notice “relies heavily on utilization and demographic statistics, but appears to lack hard data regarding actual patient outcomes and need.”

“If HHS cannot clearly define an ‘effective’ or ‘high quality’ provider,” they argued, “it is unclear to us how state and local project grantees are supposed to do so in order to comply with this proposed rule.”

“It is also therefore unclear how HHS will be able to determine in every case whether state or local project recipients – who are generally closer to and more familiar with subrecipients and the patient base in their geographical region – have considered inappropriate criteria in evaluating subrecipients,” they pointed out. 

“Rarely do the American people benefit when the federal government attempts to substitute its judgment for that of state or local governments – particularly when the criteria used to inform that judgment are unclear, and that judgment is not supported by coherent and impartial facts.”

The letter also pointed out that “part of the mission of Title X is to contribute to ‘improved health for women and infants.’ HHS’s suggestion that subrecipients like federally qualified health centers – which provide greater preventive and primary health care services than providers with a reproductive health focus – are per se less ‘effective’ than providers with a reproductive health focus does not comport with that stated mission.”

“We urge HHS to reconsider this overreaching and ill-supported rule,” they concluded.

The letter was co-signed by 18 senators and 90 members of the House, including House Democrats, Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.).

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