Updated: June 21, 2011 at 12:00 am
INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of low-income Planned Parenthood of Indiana patients were left fending for themselves Tuesday to pay for birth control, breast exams, Pap tests and other medical services while a court battle continued over a new state law that eliminated the organization's Medicaid funding.
Planned Parenthood began turning away Medicaid patients who couldn't pay for its medical services Tuesday, one day after private donations that had paid those patients' bills ran out.
A state law that took effect May 10 denied Planned Parenthood the Medicaid funds it uses to pay for general health services it provides to low-income women at its 28 Indiana clinics. The group is seeking a preliminary injunction to block Indiana's law, and a ruling is expected by July 1.
As Planned Parenthood awaits that ruling, the group said about 9,300 Medicaid patients — both women and men enrolled in the state-federal health insurance program for low-income and disabled people — are now facing "disrupted" medical services under the state's law.
Nicole Robbins, a 31-year-old single mother who has been a Planned Parenthood client for six years, said she had intended to visit a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis on Tuesday to pick up a 2-month supply of birth control pills. Then, the Medicaid recipient learned that the more than $100,000 in private donations the group had raised since May 10 had dried up.
The Ivy Tech Community College student from Indianapolis who is pursuing a physical therapy degree said she's not sure how she'll pay for her birth control.
"There are a lot of people who don't have jobs, who don't have income, and Medicaid is their only source of income as far as health insurance," she said. "I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place."
The Medicaid de-funding measure took effect the same day that Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the law. But other provision of the law that gives the state some of the nation's tightest restrictions on abortions won't take effect until July 1.
Those include a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health and a requirement that doctors ensure women seeking an abortion are told that life begins at conception.
Planned Parenthood sued the state May 10, arguing that the de-funding measure is unconstitutional and violates federal law.
The Obama administration said in a June 1 letter that the state's new Medicaid plan cutting funding for Planned Parenthood violated federal law. The Justice Department filed a brief last week supporting Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt has given the state until Friday to respond to that brief. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who said the state would appeal the Obama administration's ruling on Indiana's Medicaid plan, has called the Justice Department filing "inappropriate."
If Pratt does not rule in Planned Parenthood's favor by July 1, the organization plans to begin closing health centers and reducing staff. All but one of its 28 statewide clinics will be closed Wednesday — and most employees will be on a one-day unpaid furlough as a cost-saving step.
"The one-day furlough should allow us to save enough money to keep our doors open during this brief window between now and the expected ruling by July 1," Betty Cockrum, Planned Parenthood of Indiana president and CEO, said Monday in a statement.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kate Shepherd said the group's Indiana clinics have about 85,000 patients.
She said the group's 9,300 Medicaid patients who've lost their funding might be able to tap into Planned Parenthood's Women's Health Fund to pay for health services, if funds are available at the particular clinics they visit. Shepherd said they also can seek funding through three other federal family planning programs.
She declined to speculate Tuesday on how quickly Medicaid funding might be restored if Pratt sides with Planned Parenthood, or discuss whether that funding could remain held up if the state decides to appeal such a ruling.
"We have to wait and see what happens, but obviously it would be our hope to restore services as soon as possible," Shepherd said.
Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin also declined to comment.
"Until we see a ruling we're not even going to begin to speculate," he said Tuesday.
Brittany Eades, a 20-year-old from Greenwood, Ind., was sitting in her car Tuesday morning outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis waiting for it to open so she could buy birth control pills. She said the state's law impacting Medicaid patients makes no sense to her.
"They're on Medicaid for a reason, because they need that help," Eades said. "It's really unfair."