Audit demand could delay funding, interrupt care at reproductive health centers
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – as well as Equality Health Center and Lovering Health Center – lost two significant sources of funding this year. (Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images)
A new requirement that Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations be audited by the Department of Health and Human Services could cause the Executive Council to delay state funding, councilors said Wednesday.
Funding contracts for Planned Parenthood, Equality Health Center in Concord, Lovering Health Center in Greenland, Amoskeag Health in Manchester, and others are set to expire Wednesday – the last day of the 2021 state fiscal year.
Typically, whenever reproductive health centers exhaust their funding by the end of the fiscal year, the Executive Council approves a retroactive funding contract to cover the care that was provided after June 30.
This year, however, members of the Republican-dominated council said they might not approve those retroactive contracts until DHHS carries out an audit to ensure the organizations aren’t using state money toward abortions.
“I think it’s only prudent that we have this information before we’re actually approving a contract,” said Councilor Dave Wheeler, a Milford Republican.
The audits of the providers are a new requirement included in the state’s budget. House Bill 2, the budget trailer bill signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last Friday, includes a mandate that any reproductive health facility funded by the state must be audited by DHHS at least once a year.
According to the budget, contracts with reproductive health facilities must now include guarantees “that no state funds shall be used to subsidize abortions, either directly or indirectly,” and a promise “that the family planning project will permit the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, or his or her designated agent or delegate, to inspect the financial records of the family planning project to monitor compliance with this section.”
DHHS must in turn certify in writing to the Executive Council that it has inspected the finances of the organization by the end of every state fiscal year: June 30.
It is unclear how the audits will be structured. DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the exact information-gathering process for the audits is still being designed and worked out by the department.
The budget provision does not explicitly say that the Executive Council must wait for the audit to be completed before approving funding. Attorney General John Formella said Wednesday that his office would review the requirements in the budget bill and brief councilors on whether the audits were required.
But Wheeler, who has voted against the funding of Planned Parenthood in the past, said he would push his colleagues to delay a vote until the audit was completed.
The department plans to bring the Planned Parenthood contracts before the Executive Council this summer, likely in one of the August meetings, said Patricia Tilley, director of the Division for Public Health Services at DHHS.
But state officials say they don’t anticipate completing the audit and having a report until the end of the year.
“It would definitely delay us bringing the contracts forward,” Shibinette said.
Cinde Warmington of Concord, the lone Democrat on the council, said the interruption would tie up other areas of health care provided by the organizations.
“That would be for breast cancer screenings, for reproductive and contraception care, for pap smears, for all the health care that you get, until your department has conducted a financial review?” Warmington asked Shibinette.
“Correct,” Shibinette said.
State funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers is already in question this year. Three out of the five sitting councilors – Wheeler, Councilor Joe Kenney, a Wakefield Republican, and Councilor Ted Gatsas, a Manchester Republican – have voted in the past as councilors to strike down state contracts with abortion providers.
But the audit requirement could provide a new vehicle for that opposition.
Wheeler argued that Planned Parenthood has already breached the state’s requirement that it not use state funds to provide abortion care, because the state money indirectly supports the facilities that provide abortions.
“The family planning money is paying half the rent; the family planning money is keeping half the lights on; the family planning money is paying half the receptionist’s cost and half of the phone bill,” he said in an interview after the council meeting. “How do you keep all that separate?”
Planned Parenthood has long maintained that it does not commingle its federal and state funds with its abortion services.
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