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Federal funds to aid family planning care

Executive Council defunded services

The federal government is contracting for family planning services that lost funding when the Executive Council decided not to rehire Planned Parenthood, the state health commissioner said yesterday.

State health officials had searched for other providers who could offer family planning services, which include contraception and screenings for breast and cervical cancer, after the all-Republican council voted 3-2 in June against renewing a contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The federal program for family planning requires statewide access, and Planned Parenthood was the state's largest provider.

But the officials were unable to find providers to offer the services delivered at the organization's six New Hampshire clinics, as Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas told federal officials last month. Toumpas has said throughout that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can contract directly with Planned Parenthood to fill the gap in coverage.

Yesterday, a national anti-abortion group sent out a news release saying the contract would be awarded to Planned Parenthood. A spokesman for the Susan B. Anthony List pointed to a news report on the federal contract process and said 'the implication is clear that their goal is to fund' Planned Parenthood.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the department does not currently have a Title X grant - the program for family planning - with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman declined by email to say if her organization has communicated with federal officials about a contract. But Jennifer Frizzell, a senior policy adviser, said Planned Parenthood is seeking to ensure its patients can receive care.

'PPNNE continues to work through appropriate agencies to ensure that funding is available to support the health care needs of the 16,000 women, men and teens who depend on Planned Parenthood health care,' Frizzell said.

Federal officials put out a request last week for proposals to fill the gaps in coverage left when the Planned Parenthood contract expired at the end of June, Toumpas said yesterday in an interview. Responses from health care providers were due Wednesday, he said. Toumpas said federal officials told him they were using an expedited process to award the contract, and he told councilors he believes the process will take no more than one week.

'The process they were using was some sort of an emergency contract,' he said in the interview. 'They wanted to get it done quickly.'

The state Department of Health and Human Services has formally relinquished the federal funds that would have gone toward the $1.8 million contract with Planned Parenthood, Toumpas said. The move does not affect the 10 family planning contracts approved by the Executive Council, he said.

In its press release, the Susan B. Anthony List blasted the Obama administration for seeking to hire family planning providers in New Hampshire.

'President Obama has proven time and again that he will do whatever it takes to ensure that Planned Parenthood continues to receive taxpayer subsidies, even if that means going around a state's elected representatives,' said organization president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields, who supported the original contract, said he expects Planned Parenthood will win the contract because it is the only organization that has provided coverage across so much territory.

'I would be surprised if they didn't give it to Planned Parenthood just because of the administrative oversight that would be required to monitor a variety of new vendors,' Sununu said.

Councilor Dan St. Hilaire of Concord, who voted against the contract, said state health officials made too little effort to find a new provider before ceding responsibility to the federal government.

'I was sure there was a solution that could have been found here in New Hampshire,' St. Hilaire said. 'There was in my mind no effort made either to find a different provider or come up with different options to have Planned Parenthood funded in another manner.'

St. Hilaire has said he would approve hiring Planned Parenthood if the organization restructured to separate its abortion practice from activities that receive public funding.

Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat who announced this week he will run to replace St. Hilaire, released a statement saying the federal action was a 'band-aid solution' resulting from a 'radical social agenda' on the Executive Council. Van Ostern said a new contract would not help women who had their health care restricted since the state funding expired.

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