June 19, 2024

Iowa HHS prepares to begin providing state funds to crisis pregnancy centers

Iowa Department of Health and Human Services officials told lawmakers Thursday that they are moving forward with contract negotiations for pregnancy resource centers seeking state funding, despite not meeting a requirement to hire a third-party administrator to oversee the program.

Iowa HHS Director Kelly Garcia told the House Health and Human Services Committee that the department is nearing distribution of funding through the More Options For Maternal Support (MOMS) program.

Garcia discussed the program, alongside other updates on actions from the 2023 legislative session aimed at addressing maternal health care shortages, in a presentation to the committee alongside State Medical Director Dr. Robert Kruse. One of the highest-profile measures, signed into law by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, providing $1 million for grants for maternal health care nonprofits that discourage abortion, also known as crisis pregnancy centers.

The state funding allocated for the program has not yet been distributed to nonprofits. The law requires Iowa HHS to hire an Iowa-based nonprofit as a third-party administrator for the program, overseeing the network of maternal health care providers receiving state funding. The state has twice failed to find a qualified applicant to serve in the position in the past year, Garcia said.

A House subcommittee advanced House File 2057 Wednesday, a measure that removes the administrator requirement. The bill also removes requirements for HHS to publish criteria on both the program administrator and program providers online.

Advocates with groups including the Family Planning Council of Iowa spoke against the legislation, saying it would reduce transparency about the program, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported. Individuals with experience going to crisis pregnancy centers also spoke in opposition to the bill, objecting to the MOMS program providing state funding for nonprofits that provide inaccurate information about their medical credentials and about abortion procedures to people seeking health care.

Mazie Stilwell, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said in a statement that that anti-abortion lawmakers want to remove a crucial accountability measure on a state program funding nonprofits that “put Iowans’ health in danger.”

“We live in a state where one-third of Iowa counties are designated as maternity health care deserts,” Stilwell said in a statement. “We face multiple health care crises bred from the failed policies of out of touch politicians. Lawmakers should be working on real solutions to these problems, but instead they are more interested in making it easier to deceive those seeking comprehensive care and resources. Iowans deserve better.”

Providers seeking state funding through the MOMS program must provide “qualified pregnancy support services,” which include resources from counseling and support services, items like cribs and diapers, as well as education, planning and help in encouraging adoptions. Some centers provide health services like ultrasounds, but are not licensed medical facilities. Pregnancy resource centers often encourage parents to go through with pregnancies instead of considering abortion.

Though no funding has been yet awarded to pregnancy centers through the program, Garcia told lawmakers that on Wednesday, the department issued a notice of intent to award contracts to four providers and are beginning contract negotiations with those selected.

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, asked how the negotiation process is moving forward without an organization designated as the program administrator, as required in current law. Garcia said that while “there’s a value to having a third-party administrator,” that HHS is able to work to fulfill the law’s statutory obligation absent a qualified party filling that role.

“We understand that that was the original intent, but at the point in which we’ve tried multiple times, we did see value in moving forward to ensure that moms are getting the support originally contemplated by the Legislature and the governor,” Garcia said. “The concrete supports around this work, the awards we made yesterday — we feel solid in moving forward, and I think are also working to fulfill the intent of the legislation to get that that support out on the streets for moms.”

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