Baker promises funding to offset any Planned Parenthood cuts
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Governor Charlie Baker is pledging to boost state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Massachusetts if his fellow Republicans in Washington push ahead with a plan to slash the flow of federal dollars to the organization.
Massachusetts' five Planned Parenthood clinics stand to lose a total of about $2 million a year, from a budget of $21.5 million, if the federal cuts take place.
That money does not go directly from the government to Planned Parenthood; it is paid through Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health coverage for low-income Americans.
The Republican proposal would effectively block Medicaid patients from receiving women's health services such as cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception through Planned Parenthood. Federal dollars are already restricted from being used to pay for abortions.
But some Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, want to defund the nonprofit health care clinics because they provide abortions.
"Governor Baker is a strong supporter of women's health and believes the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure access to the important health care services offered by Planned Parenthood in all corners of our state," Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in an e-mail.
"The administration is prepared to fund these services should the federal government pursue changes that would block care for women and families here in Massachusetts," she said.
Baker's administration has been working to control state health care costs, which are the biggest chunk of the state budget.
Just three months ago, Planned Parenthood criticized the governor for cutting $181,802 from a fund that pays for family planning services.
But Baker's pledge to make up for any federal cuts to Planned Parenthood could help burnish his image as a middle-of-the-road Republican in a state with a largely Democratic base of voters.
The governor, who is up for reelection next year, already has broken with members of his party on a variety of issues. He supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage, both of which put him significantly outside the national GOP mainstream.
Baker did not vote for President Trump, and he has argued in favor of key aspects of the federal Affordable Care Act, even as Trump and Republicans in Congress are moving to dismantle it.
The announcement came a day before a Planned Parenthood rally scheduled Saturday on Boston Common to protest federal funding cuts. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and several members of the state's all-Democratic delegation are scheduled to attend.
While some Democrats praised Baker's decision, a state party press release criticized the timing, calling it politically motivated.
Baker drew heat for skipping a massive Women's March in January. He later said he spent the day meeting with local officials, working on his annual address and budget, and spending time with his family.
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said she was glad to see Baker take a position so different from what she called "extreme politicians" in Washington.
"I hope fellow Republican governors and colleagues in Washington take note," she said. "Governor Baker's support for the patients we care for here in Massachusetts makes it clear that women's health and access to affordable health care are really nonpartisan issues."
A $2 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements would prohibit about 10,000 patients from accessing medical services at Planned Parenthood, which has clinics in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Fitchburg, and Marlborough, she said.
About 30 percent of the organization's patients are covered by the state Medicaid program, known as MassHealth. Other patients are covered by commercial health insurance.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes abortion, said the governor should direct money to other health care facilities instead, noting that Planned Parenthood was investigated by Congress over its practices for the disposition of fetal tissue.
"We certainly object to giving the money to Planned Parenthood when there are hundreds of other facilities that do health care services," Beckwith said.
The investigation came after videos released by an antiabortion group in 2015 claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials profiting from the sales of fetal tissue for medical research, but Planned Parenthood denied the allegations and no wrongdoing was proved.
Attorney General Maura Healey's office reviewed Planned Parenthood sites in Massachusetts and said they were compliant with state and federal law.