A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Arizona violated federal law when it singled out Planned Parenthood as "unqualified" to provide reproductive healthcare services paid by AHCCCS (Medicaid) funds.
Not surprisingly, the state was taking another anti-abortion move purportedly on behalf of women who rely on AHCCCS, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, to pay for their healthcare services. AHCCCS does not cover abortion-related services, with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, or where the mother's health is at risk.
But by disqualifying Planned Parenthood as an AHCCCS provider, about 3,000 women were effectively blocked from using any Planned Parenthood service, which include gynecological exams and cancer screens, birth control and counseling services, and identifying and treating a number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake agreed with Planned Parenthood's argument that Federal law guarantees that Medicaid beneficiaries can use any provider they choose who participates in the Medicaid program. "The Arizona act violates the freedom of choice provision as a matter of law," Wake wrote in his ruling. "A state may not restrict a beneficiary’s right to select any qualified provider for reasons wholly unrelated to the provider’s ability to deliver Medicaid services."
Wake also invalidated the decision to label Planned Parenthood as unqualified to provide any covered reproductive healthcare service. Arizona, he wrote, presented "a strained interpretation of the word 'qualified' that would include any reasonable criteria a state sees fit to impose, regardless of whether the criteria relates to the ability to provide Medicaid services." In other words, Arizona's criteria for qualified is unacceptable under law because there is no question that Planned Parenthood provides covered reproductive healthcare services.
"The courts ruling is a victory for all Arizonans," Planned Parenthood Arizona President Bryan Howard said in a statement on the group's website. "This case has never been about Planned Parenthood Arizona--it is about the 3,000 AHCCCS patients we serve and all Arizona women."
Here is a link to Judge Wake's opinion courtesy the Tucson Weekly. Peggy Goldwater, who helped found Arizona Planned Parenthood, would be pleased.