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April 05. 2012 9:49PM

Abortion funding bill affects 24 hospitals

CONCORD — A bill prohibiting the state from contracting with organizations that perform abortion services would be like “throwing gasoline on the fire” for the state's Medicaid system, a state official told a Senate Committee.

A public hearing Thursday on House Bill 228 drew a crowd of supporters and detractors who debated the legislation — similar to bills proposed in several states — to ban Planned Parenthood and other abortion services providers from receiving public funds.

“This bill protects those who believe abortion is the killing of a human life from having to pay for that killing,” said Sen. Fenton Groen, R-Rochester.

But opponents said the bill forces a religious view on people who may not share that belief.

“What this bill is really about is bringing the full force of government to bear for a religious view,” said former state senator Dr. James Squires of Hollis. “I will not criticize anyone for what they believe. They can believe anything they want, but (under this bill) I'm being told and women are being told what I can believe.”

State officials had other concerns with the bill, which passed the House on a 207-147 vote.

The state's largest hospitals are suing the Department of Health and Human Services over reductions in provider payments, said Lisabritt Solsky, deputy director of the state Medicaid program, calling into question whether Medicaid patients have adequate access to medical services.

“Our concern is a bill like this pours gasoline on that fire,” she said.

She said 24 of the state's 26 acute-care hospitals perform abortions as defined in the bill. Only Catholic Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital do not.

If the bill became law, the 24 hospitals would either have to create separate facilities and affiliates to provide those services, or they could not contract with Health and Human Services.

Supporters of the bill argued that the hospitals and other providers would not likely give up the state and federal contracts for other health care programs and would stop performing abortions.

“This bill would not have the effect on hospitals that is being promoted,” said Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester. “If (public contracts) generate $100 million a year, and a fraction is coming from abortions, it would be unusual to jeopardize that funding for such a small bracket.”

But Solsky said the issue is adequate access to medical services for Medicaid patients. If the hospitals cannot contract with the state to provide services, where are Medicaid patients going to receive care, she asked.

In a letter to Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas wrote the bill “places hospitals in the position of choosing to provide the full spectrum of health care services that patients need, causing dis-enrollment from the Medicaid program potentially resulting in significant disruption to the acute care system and sacrificing some or all of the approximately $700 million in federal dollars that support our state Medicaid program.”

Earlier, the Susan B. Anthony List held a news conference with bill supporters and lawmakers, where the 60 or so people held signs saying “abortion is not health care.”

The organization's vice president of government affairs, Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, told the committee: “It is not the law or appropriate women's health care priorities that have changed since 1970, it is Planned Parenthood that has changed by becoming the nation's largest abortion enterprise and by putting that enterprise ahead of better alternatives — the very approaches the bill before you today will reinforce and expand.”

But Jennifer Frizzell, policy director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said abortions represent between 3 and 5 percent of the medical services her organization provides to its 16,000 New Hampshire patients.

She said there are no other health care providers in the communities her organization serves who will step up and provide the services Planned Parenthood does. “For six out of 10 women, we are the primary source of their medical care,” Frizzell said.

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.


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