Kansas taxpayers recently paid outside law firms $899,000 in a losing effort to cut off Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funds. The above-market rates paid to the law firms should generate more scrutiny of legal contracts and more caution from state officials when choosing which legal battles Kansans should fund.
Conventional wisdom says we should fight the fights worth fighting, and fight the fights we can win — the Planned Parenthood lawsuit was neither.
In 2016, Kansas informed Planned Parenthood that it would end the organization’s Medicaid contract, a move with the potential to cut off 450 to 500 patients from receiving such care as cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted infections and birth control from Planned Parenthood.
Federal law already prohibits Medicaid funds from covering abortion services.
At the time, there was reason to believe they would lose in court. The director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Vikki Wachino, sent a letter sent to all 50 state Medicaid agencies warning them not to stop contracts based on a provider also offering abortion services.
Similar cases involving multiple states wound through the courts for two years, resulting in five federal appeals decisions in favor of Planned Parenthood and one against. Kansas lost in every court decision. The Supreme Court refused to take up the case in 2018, leaving the federal court decisions in place.
The state attorney general’s office typically defends the state in court but contracts with private law firms in complex matters. Three law firms hired by the state of Kansas charged from $492 per hour to $750 an hour, in contrast of average billing rates for Kansas law firms of $244 an hour, according to a 2017 survey by the Kansas Bar Association. The charges may not have been inappropriate as the work was undoubtedly complex.
Making political decisions with the full knowledge that they will drag the state into prolonged legal battles requiring specialized law firms is risky business. Given our limited state resources, such decisions should be carefully evaluated.
Taxpayer resources would be better spent on maintaining the health and welfare of Kansans.