Notes from Exec Council meeting, part 2: meet the Commissioner

For part 1, see Notes and Photos from Council meeting. 

DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers (standing in foreground at right) at the Executive Council.

We know now that every  New Hampshire Executive Councilor knew when the June 29 meeting began how he intended to vote on the family planning contracts with two abortion providers. The prepared statement by Councilor Chris Sununu that was posted to social media immediately after the vote confirmed that his “swing” vote was swung some time ago.

State department heads or their deputies attend Council meetings in order to answer any questions the Councilors may have about proposed contracts. (That’s why most of the chairs in the chamber are taken by the time members of the public arrive.) Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers was on hand for questions from Councilors Joe Kenney and David Wheeler about the contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Joan Lovering Center.

Meyers, by the way, was confirmed as Commissioner in January. During the confirmation process, he told Councilors that he would bring back a PP contract. He followed through.

The Q and A at the Council meeting – almost entirely thanks to the diligence of Councilors Kenney and Wheeler – highlighted a few things not known by the general public. Family planning funds are tied into behavioral health money, for one thing. Another tidbit: the family planning funds may be used for agency “infrastructure.”

While Meyers’s intention regarding the contracts was clear, one Councilor told me that the actual contracts, totaling over a hundred pages, were not available to him for review until they were posted to the public, five days before the meeting.

[Audio of the June 29 meeting is available on the Executive Council web page.]

Reconsidering last August’s vote: let the Commissioner explain it for you

The June 29 vote was essentially a do-over of an August 2015 vote by the Council to deny a PP contract. How did that happen?

Councilor Joe Kenney asked Meyers about that, and was told that the family planning contract was tied into Medicaid “transformation,” money for behavioral health, and federal matching funds.

Kenney:  The Council seemed to have voted on [this contract] ten months ago. They kind of made their voice and their vote known last year. What precipitated it coming back for a vote today? 

MeyersThe Legislature appropriated this money, all the money for family planning services for the full biennium [fiscal years 2016-17]. After the last vote, and in connection with the state’s negotiations of a new Medicaid transformation waiver, which is going to strengthen our behavioral health system with  a $150 million waiver, this family planning program was one of the programs for which the federal government, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was providing the matching funds….In order to match what we get from the waiver, this was one of the programs. So the total amount of family planning  state general fund program is $795,000 for fiscal ‘16, and the same amount for fiscal ‘17.

So I brought [the contract] back as I stated I would at my confirmation hearing in January; one, because the legislature wanted this money to go to family planning services, and second, because there was an additional incentive now so that this money could be matched and if spent on family planning, it would be matched, and that additional money would be available for behavioral health.

Kenney: For F[iscal]Y[ear] 2016, the Council voted on that contract last year with Planned Parenthod. Why is this contract retroactive, includes both FY ’16 and ’17?

Meyers: For two purposes: one, if the Council were to approve it today, then even though fiscal ’16 ends technically June 30th, and we’re going to be making that transition in our budget, the money can be encumbered. The money can then be provided to the two contractors, the Joan Lovering Center and Planned Parenthood. My understanding from speaking with both of the vendors after the contract was brought forth for the agenda is that that money will continue to support their infrastructure, some specific needs, that will allow them to continue access. So this money is not going back and paying for services that have already been paid for, for reimbursement….The Lovering Center [executive director] informed me that the money that would have been allocated for services in ‘16 will be used to purchase two new exam tables that will allow for continuation of services at that facility.

The second reason why it was retroactive is because if we do encumber it for ‘16, then I match it under the Medicaid waiver, so I’m not going to lose the federal match that will contribute to our new transformation.

Got that? And how about that “infrastructure” reference? Sounds to me like the Commissioner just torpedoed any and all claims that funds for family planning don’t support abortion services. Abortions and abortion counseling are provided using the same infrastructure – furnishings, utilities, buildings – used to provide family planning.

PP and the baby-parts business: the Councilors had documentation

Councilors Colin Van Ostern and Chris Pappas, along with Governor Maggie Hassan, dismissed accusations against PP arising from the Center for Medical Progress videos documenting some PP affiliates’ marketing of the body parts of aborted children. Hassan went so far at the meeting as to say, “I would just note for the record that charges like this have been completely debunked.”

Not so fast. Wheeler prefaced his questioning of the Commissioner with this:  “I’d like to read into the record that Planned Parenthood [in Wisconsin] is tied to the University of Wisconsin, and they are indeed selling baby parts,” adding that researchers at UW-Madison received hearts and brains from aborted human beings. “[PP is] an organization where if they’re going to choose to do this, we shouldn’t be doing business with them. Planned Parenthood advocates in Wisconsin have denied any such exchange. But…we’ve got state records to prove that the University of Wisconsin had arrangements with Planned Parenthood to obtain human baby body parts. Here’s the backup documentation for the Councilors if you’d like it, and for the Governor, and I’ll have extras for the press.”

Wheeler then turned to the Commissioner.

Wheeler:  This is for you, Commissioner. This is on page 2 of the Planned Parenthood manual of medical standards and guidelines. If you look at the highlighted line, it says “abortal tissue donation programs.” Could you tell me what they’re doing with abortal tissue, please?

Meyers: It is my understanding that Planned Parenthood does not engage in any abortal tissue donation program in the state of New Hampshire. I can’t speak for any other state.

Wheeler, holding up a document: This is the application for the federal money, not the money here today, but federal money, and in their application they’re talking about abortal tissue donation. They’re giving this to the federal government. So you’re telling us they’re not doing it, even though they gave this to the federal government that implies that they are?

Meyers: My understanding, and I asked [them] the question directly, Planned Parenthood does not engage in this program in the State of New Hampshire.

I spoke with Councilor Wheeler the day after the meeting. He confirmed to me that all the Councilors had access before the meeting to his documentation about the Wisconsin body-parts arrangement, “so he [Councilor Sununu] cast his vote with full knowledge that Planned Parenthood was caught red-handed selling baby parts to the University of Wisconsin.”

Wheeler told me that his documentation about Wisconsin had nothing to do with Center for Medical Progress videos. “There’s no are-these-videos-real-or-not. There were documents,” he said to me.

Medicaid fraud by PP in other states: Councilors had documentation, thanks to Councilor Wheeler

Wheeler also made available to his colleagues information about investigations in other states into Medicaid overbilling by PP affiliates. At the Council meeting, he told the commissioner about a lawsuit in Iowa brought by former PP worker Sue Thayer with assistance from Alliance Defending Freedom, charging that Planned Parenthood in Iowa submitted  fraudulent Medicaid claims for reimbursements, amounting to millions of dollars.

Wheeler It’s very disturbing to see this type of Medicaid fraud from this provider, Planned Parenthood, and it’s a really good reason not to use this provider. In fact, every Planned Parenthood in the country that’s been audited has been found having to return money to Medicaid….Are you auditing for appropriate billing?

Meyers: Sure.

WheelerI’d like that documentation later. So to your knowledge, ha[s PP] ever overbilled us?

Meyers: No. 

Remember that, and hope it’s true.

I later asked Councilor Wheeler about the Iowa case. “It was dismissed at the district court level, appealed by the Alliance Defense Fund [note: Alliance Defending Freedom], and the appellate judge sent it back to lower court for trial. That happened just last week. Also from the Alliance Defense Fund, we were given hard evidence of Planned Parenthoods all across the country overbilling Medicaid for their services.”

What does he say to the claims that these problems are with other affiliates, not PPNNE? “I say Planned Parenthood is Planned Parenthood.”

Webcams and drug-induced abortions

Wheeler had one more question for Meyers, regarding the practice of webcam abortions used in other states, when an abortion provider and a woman seeking abortion communicate remotely via webcam before the woman is given abortion-inducing drugs.

Wheeler: Will any of this money be used for webcam abortions?

Meyers:  No, whatsoever. I certainly have no knowledge of anything like that. [The money] is required to be used for the purposes articulated [in the contract].

Wheeler: Back to the [PP] manual [of medical standards and guidelines] here. This talks about using pills for chemical abortions when making application to the feds [for family planning money]. Will this [state] money be used for chemical abortions?

Meyers: No. This money is not being used for abortions.

Wheeler: No morning-after pills are going to be bought with this money?

Meyers: No.

Wheeler: I’d like to confirm that at a later date with you, in writing.

Not on the record, but certainly known to all parties to the discussion: if an abortion-inducing drug is classified as a contraceptive, the drug can be provided using “family planning” funds.

Wheeler told me as much in our conversation the day after the Council meeting. “[Meyers] said we don’t hand out pharmaceuticals for abortions with this money; we do.” 

Councilor Kenney questions the state’s priorities

Joe Kenney wondered aloud at the meeting how a once-denied family planning contract could come up again when New Hampshire residents are facing a more pressing health care need.

Kenney: I’ll be voting against the contract, mostly because of the prioritization….[F]amily planning services is not the crisis of the day. I would prefer that money be re-purposed towards the opioid crisis – whether we give it to Granite Hammer, whether we give it to our mental health system. To me, that’s where the priorities of the state are.  The number one issue in the state of New Hampshire is the opioid crisis. Number one.

…And so last week I really thought long and hard. We’re basically re-addressing something that was taken up last year, and this Council spoke very articulately and very forcefully  that they were not going to support the contract….We should put that money into the drug opioid crisis. 

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