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SC gov to Medicaid: Cover medical care, not abortion clinics

COLUMBIA (AP) South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the state’s Medicaid agency to continue covering “necessary medical care and important women’s health and family planning services” but also “to terminate abortion clinics as Medicaid providers.”

The executive order, directed at the state Department of Health and Human Services late last week, comes after the Republican vetoed $16 million in family planning funds from the state budget.

Federal laws mandate that Medicaid patients may seek family planning services at health care clinics of their own choosing. Federal money may not be used to pay for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger. But hundreds of thousands of low-income South Carolinians qualify for family planning benefits like pelvic exams through the state Medicaid agency.

Spokesman Brian Symmes told media outlets McMaster intended to impact as few of them as possible in his bid to stop government money from flowing to Planned Parenthood.

To exclude abortion providers from the Medicaid family planning provider network, the agency must establish that the clinics were otherwise disqualified for some legitimate reason, such as billing fraud. State Medicaid spokeswoman Colleen Mullis told the Post and Courier of Charleston last week the governor’s actions “result in abortion clinics no longer being qualified to provide family planning services to South Carolina Medicaid beneficiaries.”

She did not elaborate on whether the clinics had violated any state or federal rules.

Lawmakers will return to Columbia this fall to address McMaster’s budget vetoes, including his removal of $16 million for health care from the state’s $8 billion spending plan. In slashing the funding, McMaster – who is campaigning this year for his first full term in office – said he was keeping a promise he has made repeatedly, disagreeing with Democrats and some Republicans who said Planned Parenthood gets less than $100,000 of the money and all of it goes for family planning and not abortion.

Planned Parenthood called the veto a “political stunt” and the practical effect will be to remove birth control, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and even cancer screenings for hundreds of thousands of poor women on Medicaid.

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