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Federal grant hinges on family planning access

State health officials must show by early next month how they can restore family planning services previously covered by Planned Parenthood or risk losing federal money, the state health commissioner said yesterday.

The Executive Council last month declined to renew a two-year contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to serve 16,000 state residents. The bulk of funding for the state family planning grants comes from the federal government, which requires recipient states to provide statewide access to care, said Commissioner Nick Toumpas of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Without the contract with Planned Parenthood, he said, New Hampshire no longer provides access in all regions.

The Executive Council rejected a new $1.8 million contract last month. The all-Republican council voted 3-2 against the Planned Parenthood contract but approved 10 other family planning contracts. Councilor Dan St. Hilaire of Concord, who voted against the Planned Parenthood contract, said the money should go to an organization that does not provide abortions.

The six Planned Parenthood health centers in New Hampshire stopped dispensing birth control July 1. The organization had provided birth control under a limited retail pharmacy license that depended on having a state contract, according to Steve Trombley, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Since the vote, state health officials have been talking with their federal counterparts about ways to restore service, Toumpas said. He declined to say whether he would bring forward another contract with Planned Parenthood. The state must produce a plan for restoring service to all parts of the state by a deadline that will fall in the first half of August, he said.

In one scenario for restoring service, state officials could inquire if agencies already providing reproductive health care are able to expand, Toumpas said. Officials are exploring a number of other options, Toumpas said, but he declined to identify them.

Toumpas said department officials are focused on ensuring people who were served by the Planned Parenthood contract continue to have access to reproductive health services. In addition to contraception, the contracts provide for cancer screenings and some primary care services.

'There are a number of the women who are receiving these services, this is their only health care,' he said.

Planned Parenthood has been lobbying to receive approval for the denied contract. The organization has taken out newspaper ads and encouraged patients to contact their executive councilors.

The Executive Council will see the 10 approved contracts again at a future meeting because the dollar amounts were based on the budget recommended by Gov. John Lynch. The spending approvals will be adjusted downward to reflect the budget that became law, Toumpas said. He said he does not plan to bring forward family planning contracts at the Executive Council meeting tomorrow.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)