This story first appeared in Carolina Public Press and is published by N.C. Health News through a content-sharing agreement.
By Jon Elliston
Carolina Public Press
ASHEVILLE – In a new report, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says that funding shortfalls remain an obstacle to hiring needed inspectors for abortion clinics and other medical facilities.
The report, on “additional needs to survey abortion clinics,” was issued April 1 in response to the requirements of N.C.’s new abortion law, passed late last summer.
The law instructed DHHS to prepare new rules for how clinics are certified and to keep the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services apprised of the process. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, is one of the committee’s co-chairs. Hise represents Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties.
The department’s “needs remain unchanged,” the report said. “Ten new positions will be needed.”
DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos told the legislature last summer that it will cost $1 million per year to fund 10 new inspector positions, doubling the department’s capacity. Those inspectors would survey not only abortion clinics but other acute care facilities as well, including dialysis centers and psychiatric hospitals.
In response, the General Assembly appropriated $100,000 for the potential new hires, and DHHS began seeking an additional $900,000 in federal funds from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
But the federal funds have not come through, DHHS said in the new report. As a result, a key provision of the new abortion law remains in limbo.
DHHS addresses the holdup for new inspectors
The legislature’s directives regarding abortion clinics seemed relatively clear last summer: Do more inspections and write new rules. But neither objective has played out quickly.
“Money was appropriated by the General Assembly, but no matching funds were provided by the federal government,” DHHS spokesperson Kevin Howell said, after the new report on the continued need for more inspectors was issued. The department “performs inspections on behalf of (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services), which is why federal funding is involved,” he added.
“CMS agreed to the need for these additional inspectors but did not have the funding available,” he said. “However, we will continue to work with CMS to identify and secure the funding necessary for these important positions.”
CMS has yet to comment on the matter. Requests for comment from Carolina Public Public were not answered.
Long process looms for proposed new abortion rules
The new law authorizes DHHS to “apply any requirement for the licensure of ambulatory surgical centers” to abortion clinics, while not “unduly restricting access” to abortion.
The department’s new update for the General Assembly followed a little-noticed interim report, issued Dec. 23, 2013, which was much more detailed.
It said that DHHS is beginning a rule-making process that will have to pass through a number of stages, and offered no predictions on when new restrictions might be enacted for abortion providers in North Carolina.
The process has been followed with particular attention in WNC, where the area’s sole provider of abortions, Femcare, was briefly suspended during last summer’s debate and is closing soon, while another clinic operated by Planned Parenthood is slated to open in Buncombe County.