AUL accused of using misleading testimony in report that led to Planned Parenthood investigation

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Monday, October 03, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Anti-abortion-rights organization Americans United for Life has started shopping around a new narrative in its continued effort to defund Planned Parenthood. This narrative eschews “abortion” and embraces “taxpayer” and “bipartisan.”

In response to accusations the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee’s upcoming investigation into Planned Parenthood (which was inspired by a report crafted by AUL) is “politically motivated,” AUL is championing the investigation as an issue of fraud, not abortion.

“The key here is transparency and accountability, which is a bipartisan issue,” said AUL President Charmaine Yoest when she appeared on MSNBC’s “Up w/ Chris Hayes” on Saturday. “We can all disagree about the issue of abortion … but the American people … don’t want to see their tax dollars going to subsidize abortion.”

Hayes and his guests argued with Yoest about the validity of AUL’s report and the organization’s own transparency and relationship with Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee who launched the investigation last week.

“You want to see Planned Parenthood go out of existence,” Hayes told Yoest. “Why should we trust anything that you say about the organization, given the fact that we know you are bent on their destruction?”

Yoest responded that, annually, Planned Parenthood performs more than 300,000 abortions and receives more than $365 million in federal funding. “That’s a million dollars a day, Chris,” she said. “Aren’t you even the slightest bit curious as to what they’re doing with that money?”

Hayes informed Yoest that before the show, he contacted Lewis Morris, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general chief counsel, whom AUL cites in its report to support the idea that Planned Parenthood has committed fraud. In the quote AUL selected, Morris said that “[Medicaid] providers that engage in health care fraud may consider civil penalties and criminal fines a cost of doing business.”

Morris told Hayes’ staff AUL used this quote misleadingly because his testimony was about the Office of Inspector General’s approach to combat Medicare and Medicaid fraud and was not specifically about Planned Parenthood.

Hayes further accused Yoest of exaggerating the notion that Planned Parenthood is guilty of fraud:

Hayes: When you say there are four cases of [overbilling] on Medicaid, there are over 800 Planned Parenthood centers around the country, and these cases go back over the last decade and a half. What is the margin of error that you would find acceptable? How does this compare to other large providers of Medicaid services?

Yoest: Are you saying that that’s an acceptable margin of error when the American taxpayer is involved? Transparency and accountability is supposed to be a bipartisan issue.

Guest and New York Times Magazine writer Rebecca Traister suggested a detailed congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood’s audits dating back 20 years was perhaps itself a waste of taxpayer money.

“The kind of discrepancies … that you cite in your report have been turned up because [Planned Parenthood] is scrutinized so closely,” Traister said. “Isn’t that a tremendous waste to sort of redo a job that is done regularly?”

Yoest mentioned another highlight from AUL’s report, a supposed discrepancy between the amount Planned Parenthood claims it spent in 2010 and the amount reported by the Government Accountability Office.

In the report, AUL’s staff wrote: “How much money does Planned Parenthood receive from federal taxpayers? A 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) demonstrates that even the federal government does not know the answer.”

This fall Politifact quashed this argument:

The GAO never reported that Planned Parenthood and its affiliates couldn’t find $1.3 billion. It simply said that Planned Parenthood spent $657.1 million. The GAO also didn’t say that there was any sort sort of discrepancy or that money was missing.

On Monday, AUL’s legal staff revisited the discrepancy claim and defended itself against Politifact:

[I]t should be noted that the AUL Report does not mention “missing money.” The AUL Report addresses, as the GAO Report confirms, the federal government’s lack of knowledge regarding how much federal funding Planned Parenthood receives. Whether or not Planned Parenthood knows how much federal money it receives does not negate that problem. In fact, the AUL Report calls for Planned Parenthood’s internal audits to be turned over to Congress, so that the lawmakers charged with overseeing these funds can exercise oversight of Planned Parenthood’s collection and use of federal funding.

Yoest told Hayes that AUL is looking out for the taxpayer, but as The Florida Independent recently reported, at last week’s crisis pregnancy center conference, AUL staff attorney Kellie Fiedorek said Planned Parenthood is being targeted as a part of a strategy to end abortion.

Both Stearns’ office and the House Committee on Energy & Commerce told The American Independent that there should no be extra costs associated with the investigation, as it will involve existing staff and resources.

“The cost and time should be minimal as long as Planned Parenthood has been complying with its legal obligations and cooperates with the inquiry,” Energy & Commerce committee spokesperson Debbee Keller said in an email. “As part of an ongoing effort to provide proper oversight of taxpayer dollars, Chairman Stearns is conducting a narrowly-focused investigation to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used as intended under federal law.”

When Hayes asked Yoest how closely AUL has worked with Stearns before he launched the investigation, Yoest would not answer the question.

“We talk to a lot of people on Capitol Hill every day, Chris,” she said.

Watch the entire segment:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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