State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, followed through on her plan to file an amendment that would remove language in Florida’s Medicaid bill that allows Medicaid service providers to opt out of providing family planning services on “moral or religious grounds,” but the amendment failed yesterday during one of the final motions on the bill.

In order to expedite the legislative process right before the legislative session ends this week, the Florida Senate substituted the Senate’s version of the Medicaid bill with the House’s version. The House version required that all managed care plans cover “at a minimum” a whole host of services, including but not limited to “family planning services and supplies.”

However, the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, introduced a strike-all amendment that changed a lot of the bill’s language. Among the changes was a provision that allows any provider to “elect to not provide [family planning] services due to an objection on moral or religious grounds.”

During debate over Negron’s proposed language, Rich asked him if he would be willing to accept a way to insure that all women receiving Medicaid would be able to receive family planning services. She said her fears were that there might not be another plan for a woman to chose from that does offer the services. She also said an existing provider that does provide it might pull their services from the region. She cited an incident in her district, Broward County, in which seven HMOs pulled their services in the region.

Negron said that any plan “should respect the conscious and the religious values of any individual, any entity, that’s providing health care.” He said that doing so would be “consistent with federal law.”

“Hospitals that have a religious issue with certain medical practices don’t have to provide them,” he said.

He did, however, say that he would consider making sure these services “are provided otherwise.”

Rich then provided an amendment that would do just that. Her amendment added that “the agency shall ensure the availability of federally-required benefits if it is not covered by the plan.” The amendment would basically allow family planning services to be covered through Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration — a provision, she pointed out, that had been agreed upon by both the agency and the Florida Catholic Conference.

Negron said he would be able to work with the agency to provide family planning services without the amendment.

“I think we should insure that family planning services are available,” Rich said. “This [amendment] is just to insure that we are not back in the dark ages where people in our state — the women in our state — cannot get family planning services.”

State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, spoke out against the amendment and said that it “was more broadly drawn than [Rich] had intended.” He mainly took issue with the federally required benefits.

“That’s an undefined and vast wonderland of Washington planning,” he said.

Negron also took time to point out who this language was primarily serving.

“The reality of this is that this is done at the request of primarily Catholic hospitals and Catholic-based [provider service networks] that want to provide medical care as an option, but for their religiously held beliefs don’t provide family planning,” he explained. “I didn’t feel it was right to penalize someone based on their religious preference and their deeply held religious belief.”

These “deeply held” religious beliefs are ones that have been shown to not be observed by most Catholic women. According to a report the Guttmacher Institute released last month, about “98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church.”

Rich’s amendment failed and Negron’s strike-all passed. The House bill now includes language that strips family planning services from certain plans in the state of Florida, per the provider’s request.

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