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HHS defers on family planning



Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011
The state health commissioner told federal officials earlier this month that New Hampshire has no plan for restoring access to family planning services previously contracted to Planned Parenthood.

New Hampshire receives federal money to provide family planning services, which include contraception and cancer screenings, through a federal program that requires statewide access. After the Executive Council in June declined to renew a two-year contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the largest provider of the services, the state no longer met the requirement. The $1.8 million contract would have served 16,000 state residents, many of them poor women.

The six Planned Parenthood centers in the state have continued offering services, often at a steep discount, to people seeking screenings for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases. But the organization has not dispensed prescription birth control since July 1, when its limited retail pharmacy license expired along with its contract.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked the state to tell them by Aug. 15 how they would restore access to family planning services throughout the state. State health officials spoke with other health care providers about expanding their services but were unable to arrive at a plan that would pass the Executive Council, said Commissioner Nick Toumpas of the state Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier this month, he wrote to tell federal officials that no plan was in place.

"Now the ball is in the court of the federal government," Toumpas said in a phone interview.

Without a state plan, federal officials can take control of the funding that used to provide services in the regions that would have been covered by the rejected contract, Toumpas said. Planned Parenthood operates centers in Claremont, Derry, Exeter, Keene, Manchester and West Lebanon.

Toumpas said he does not know what form a federal plan would take or when it could take effect. But he has told members of the Executive Council that federal officials could decide to contract with Planned Parenthood. The all-Republican council approved 10 other family planning contracts on the same day they rejected the agreement with Planned Parenthood.

Councilor Dan St. Hilaire of Concord has said he opposed the contract because he was not satisfied that it would prevent public money from being used for abortions, while Councilor Ray Wieczorek of Manchester says he also opposes public money being used for contraception. Councilor David Wheeler of Milford also voted against the contract.

Planned Parenthood says audits are conducted to ensure no public money is used to provide abortions.

Toumpas plans to bring the 10 approved contracts back before the Executive Council for technical adjustments, but he said he has no plans to return with the Planned Parenthood contract. He said his primary concern is restoring services to the people served by the federal grant. Many of them are women with incomes below the federal poverty line, he said.

"For many of these people, this is the only source of health services," he said. "That is the part that is the most troubling."

Without the state contract, the fees charged by Planned Parenthood will soon rise. The organization has determined it will adjust its sliding fee scale on Sept. 1, said Jennifer Frizzell, a senior policy adviser. The scale now in place provides services at no cost to the 68 percent of patients whose income is less than 150 percent of the poverty level, she said.

Planned Parenthood officials are evaluating how they could qualify for a grant from the federal government to provide services in New Hampshire, Frizzell said. She said she sees no movement toward the Executive Council approving a contract.

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