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Illinois Medicaid pushes long-acting birth control

BY CARLA K. JOHNSONAssociated Press

CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration wants to double down on long-acting birth control methods for the poor in an effort to save taxpayer money on unplanned pregnancies, a strategy that is raising concern among Catholic health care systems.

Officials with the Illinois Medicaid program plan to increase payments to doctors and clinics for methods such as intrauterine devices, using an approach advocates say could save millions of dollars.

"We could really show some very dramatic results, including cost savings results," said Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. The department wants comments on an 11-point plan by Sept. 15.

The plan would require Catholic health systems, which run the only hospitals in some low-income neighborhoods, to tell the state annually how they refer women elsewhere for services they won't provide.

Members of the Illinois Catholic Health Association worry that will force them out of the Medicaid program, said the group's executive director Patrick Cacchione. The group represents about 18 percent of the hospitals in Illinois.

Catholic hospitals don't provide birth control, relying on state law to shield them from violating church beliefs.

But, Cacchione said, that wasn't enough to stop Illinois from ending contracts with Catholic groups for foster care in 2011 over the practice of referring gay couples to other agencies. The Catholic groups had refused to recognize the state's civil union law. After dropping a lawsuit, the Catholic groups now are essentially out of the foster care business, he said.

"Will they say you can't contract with Medicaid (without an adequate referral plan)?" Cacchione asked.

The state will work with "all providers to make sure they have some sort of referral plan so patients can get the contraceptive services they seek," said department spokeswoman Joanne von Alroth, acknowledging Illinois can't legally require any provider to refer a patient for birth control elsewhere.

The Illinois plan comes at a time of political controversy over who pays for birth control. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government can't force companies such as the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores to pay for birth control as required under President Barack Obama's health care law. The Hobby Lobby decision doesn't apply to Medicaid, the state and federal health care program for the poor and disabled.

Medicaid pays for 94 percent of the state's births to teenage mothers and 54 percent of all the state's deliveries. About one-third of the state's 3 million Medicaid recipients are women and girls of childbearing age, between 13 and 49 years old.

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