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By Charles Lam
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“For me, it was one of those shock moments,” he says. “I wanted to know, ‘How did this happen?’” He felt deceived by the HCA, he says, and at a February board meeting, he asked HCA to report back with information on all the community nonprofit clinics in the county receiving funds from the TSR.
The agency says it never had any obligation to disclose subcontractors to the board, only the contractor, which was the Coalition of Community Clinics, an organization that oversees the distribution of state funds to 19 clinics in the county. “Nothing was deliberately obfuscated,” says Bob Gates, deputy director of indigent medical services for HCA. At any time, he says, the board could have asked and been told which clinics were receiving funds. The agency’s county website, as well as the Coalition’s website, openly lists Planned Parenthood as an affiliate nonprofit clinic.
Once the information was submitted, Moorlach was unequivocal: He didn’t believe funding should go to Planned Parenthood because he was morally opposed to abortion. The board agreed with him. “I think abortion is a moral issue,” Supervisor Chris Norby said at the March 10 meeting. “I don’t believe the county should be funding abortion.”
At that meeting, the board voted unanimously to suspend Planned Parenthood’s $291,000 grant for the rest of the fiscal year.
The fact that the TSR funds Planned Parenthood was receiving had not been used for abortions didn’t seem to matter. And the board did not discuss whether the county should continue giving TSR money to local private hospitals that also perform abortions, or to HCA itself, since the two remaining public county clinics refer pregnant patients to Planned Parenthood to discuss all of their options, including abortion.
That morning, Moorlach sent an e-mail to constituents: “Not to generalize, but when you contact a law firm that specializes in bankruptcies, they most likely will advise you to file for bankruptcy,” Moorlach wrote. “If you go to Planned Parenthood, they are most likely to recommend their specialized surgical solution, which they provide and are compensated for, which appears to be a conflict of interest.”
Planned Parenthood fought back, threatening to sue and gathering petition signatures from local supporters. In April, the board voted 3-2 to reinstate Planned Parenthood’s funding through June (Moorlach and John Campbell dissented) and to adopt a new set of policy rules for the next round of grant applications.
The new policy requires that HCA list all the clinics the agency approves for TSR funds and that the clinics specifically outline how the money will be used for direct medical services. Funds can no longer be used for any type of group-education purpose, which includes not only sex education, but also diabetes, cancer, dental and other types of group workshops given at other clinics. The new policy also includes specific caveats for clinics that perform abortions or give abortion counseling.
“The ability to use the money for what the clinics determine the needs are in the community has been hampered,” says Isabel Becerra, director of the Coalition of Orange County Community Clinics, a separate nonprofit that works with HCA and oversees the distribution of the TSR funds. “As a funder, the Health Care Agency is acting within their right to determine what the funding is being used for.”
Some clinics rely on the TSR funds for up to 30 percent of their budgets. Becerra says they can no longer use the funds for overhead costs, education services or case managers. “For the past eight years, it wasn’t restricted to this level,” she adds. “Clinics were allowed to design programs that they felt were necessary for their communities.”
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In the past month or so, Moorlach has shifted his rhetoric away from abortion, saying now that this is really about money and how it’s being spent in the county. “I came here to fight deficits, not abortions,” he says.
In a way, Moorlach has returned to his old fight over Measure H. Back in 2000, Moorlach, who was serving as county treasurer, had countered the initiative with Measure G, which restructured Measure H so that a significant amount of the health-care money for the poor would be used instead to reduce the county’s bankruptcy debt. The fight, which pitted Moorlach against Measure H proponent Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor at the time, was messy (see R. Scott Moxley’s “Behind the Smoke,” Nov. 9, 2000) and resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of Measure H.
“There are programs where federal and state funding allow for providing abortions. It’s something we have to administer and can’t change. I serve on the Cal Optima board and have never made an issue of that funding,” he says. “Measure H is unique, and we do have control over where that money goes.”
But should that control be predicated on his and other supervisors’ personal moral beliefs? “Abortion funding is very divisive among constituents. If you’re going to have half of your constituents upset with it, then why are we there when we’re already providing sex education at the schools and have other critical needs?” he asks. “How do you justify it? I think that’s probably where most of us are coming from.”