Can Charlie Baker Actually Re-Fund Planned Parenthood?

Gov. Baker vowed to offset federal cuts with state money. How?

Planned Parenthood Rally

An attendee from Saturday’s Planned Parenthood rally/Photo by Lisa Weidenfeld

Gov. Charlie Baker endeared himself to many a Bay Stater last week when he promised to offset federal action against Planned Parenthood with state funding. And with House Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement, complete with plans to “defund” Planned Parenthood for one year, officially circulating, the governor’s vow means more now than ever.

Where the money will come from, however, remains unclear.

While there is no state or federal line item for Planned Parenthood, the House Republicans’ bill would “defund” the healthcare organization by blocking procedure reimbursements from Medicaid for one year. Local Planned Parenthood branches stand to lose about $2 million—money Baker vowed Massachusetts would make up using the state budget if necessary.

In just December, however, Baker slashed $98 million from the state budget, including more than $180,000 from a fund that finances family planning resources. So where is that extra $2 million hiding?

When asked how Massachusetts will pay for Baker’s promise, spokesperson Lizzy Guyton declined to note specifics or address how the state budget can accommodate money for Planned Parenthood, though she did emphasize Baker’s commitment to the organization.

“Governor Baker is a strong supporter of women’s health and believes the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure access to the important healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood in all corners of our state, and 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,” Guyton said in a statement.

Noah Berger, president of MassBudget, a non-partisan group that researches and analyzes budget and economic issues, says it could be tricky to dig up $2 million, but the task is not unprecedented.

“The state budget is barely balanced, so any new commitments are difficult,” Berger says. “But in the context of our overall Medicaid program, which provides access to healthcare for 1.9 million people, $2 million is a modest amount. Medicaid policy debates are usually about much larger numbers.”

Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, says Baker’s decision is actually a wise financial move.

“Gov. Baker made a fiscally smart decision when he pledged to mitigate the impact of federal ‘defunding’ efforts and ensure that thousands of Massachusetts residents continue to have access to affordable family planning services at Planned Parenthood,” she says. “As a doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how access to preventive care helps patients stay healthy and avoid costly services down the road.”

Childs-Roshak estimates that Planned Parenthood saved the state $9 million in 2016 alone, simply by helping MassHealth patients secure contraception access, avoid unwanted pregnancies, and treat STDs.

“No governor should have to step in to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility to ensure everyone has access to healthcare,” Childs-Roshak adds, “but we are thankful Gov. Baker is standing with Planned Parenthood.”

Only time will tell if Baker actually has the resources to stand on, though.

The governor slashed funding to a number of public health programs just three months ago, as part of his mid-year budget cuts. “The revenue isn’t there to support the level of funding and spending that the Legislature appropriated,” Baker said at the time.

Funding for opioid abuse relief, arguably the most pressing public health crisis in Massachusetts, was among those cuts. The decrease? Roughly $1.9 million, almost the exact amount in question.