- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Obama administration announced more than $1 million in grants Wednesday to Planned Parenthood, banking on the women’s health care provider to help sell Obamacare to patients and defying congressional Republicans battling to end all public funding for the organization.

Planned Parenthood chapters in Iowa, Missouri and Montana were among 100 recipients of “navigator” grants, which pay nonprofit groups to provide in-person help to people trying to sign up for coverage under Medicare or the health insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare.

Republicans blasted the funding, saying it was a particular affront at a time when Planned Parenthood is facing intense questions over its practices involving the handling and sale of fetal tissue. A series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress appear to show Planned Parenthood officials haggling over prices and discussing abortion techniques designed to preserve the most fetal tissue possible.

“This is another example of the Obama administration’s complete lack of respect for life,” said Emily Schillinger, a spokeswoman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Planned Parenthood, which did not return a call for comment on its grants, has said the videos are edited to be misleading and deny illegal behavior.

But the videos have emboldened Republicans and pro-life advocates, who have tried for years to cut off funding for the country’s largest provider of abortions. The House Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a hearing next week on the undercover videos.

SEE ALSO: House Judiciary to hold first hearing on Planned Parenthood in wake of videos

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees much of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, announced a total of $67 million in navigator grants, going to 100 recipients in 34 states to prepare for the next season of open enrollment, which begins later this year.

That amount is up $7 million from last year’s allotment.

“We’re pleased that the funding given is an increase from last year, and the three-year time frame of the grant provides the enrollment coalition with stability as we work to make enrollment a way of life for years to come,” said Anne Filipic, president of Enroll America, a nonprofit that links the uninsured to Obamacare.

Of the money, Iowa’s Planned Parenthood chapter will receive $304,373 to connect residents of 77 counties with Obamacare, while the Montana chapter will get $337,555 and focus on rural populations, including American Indians.

In Missouri, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis will receive $388,787 aimed at reaching minorities and populations with limited English proficiency — particularly Hispanics, Bosnians and Vietnamese.

The amounts reflect the first year of a three-year grant, so the groups are poised to receive additional funds in the subsequent two years, although the amounts could change depending on how much grant money is available, according to CMS.

Still, it appears to be a smaller number than in the past. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa and Intermountain Planned Parenthood in Montana received the Obamacare grants in 2013 and 2014, and other chapters in additional states were listed as primary recipients or sub-grantees during those years.

An agency spokesman said the Planned Parenthood groups and other nonprofits were selected through a competitive grant process based on factors outlined in a funding opportunity announcement, or “FOA.”

“Their applications were reviewed by an objective review panel and received a score based on their ability to address the requirements of the FOA related to connecting uninsured individuals to coverage options,” said Aaron Albright, the spokesman.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said the announcement gives Congress “all the more reason” to pass her legislation to freeze all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, including navigator grants.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that Planned Parenthood broke federal law, and now the Obama administration wants to use a back door move to increase its taxpayer funding. This is morally reprehensible on every level, but of course it’s not surprising,” she said.

Planned Parenthood gets about a half-billion dollars in public funding each year from federal and state sources.

The largest federal chunk comes from Medicaid, the government’s health care program for the poor.

Some Republicans have said Congress should use the upcoming debate on government funding for fiscal year 2016 to try to block any more money for Planned Parenthood, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the battle will have to wait until 2017 because there aren’t enough votes in Congress to overcome an Obama veto right now.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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