Federal Family-Planning Honcho Resigns

Overseer of funds hits road after Medicaid officials initiate action against his private practice

Dr. Eric Keroack, appointed by President George W. Bush to oversee the administration of federal family-planning funds, resigned his post last week after Medicaid officials initiated action against his private practice in Massachusetts. Keroack was chosen in November to oversee the Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs, which handles roughly $283 million in Title X welfare funding, which provides, on average, family-planning health-care services to more than 5 million mostly low-income and uninsured women every year.

Keroack's appointment angered numerous groups – including Planned Parenthood, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Catholics for Free Choice – who argued that Keroack's professional history as a staunch advocate of abstinence-only sex education and as the medical director for the group A Woman's Concern, which operates crisis pregnancy centers around Boston – which, under his supervision, do not provide referrals or access to women's birth control – is completely out-of-step with mainstream, scientific, or even practical thinking. Many women's health-care advocates found Keroack's appointment just plain insulting. Indeed, it's been hard to figure out how a man who runs CPCs that consider birth control "demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality, and adverse to human health and happiness," as the group's policy reads, could actually be tasked with doling out family-planning funds, which include funding for birth control.

The days of noodling over that mystery came to a close on March 29, when Dr. John Agwunobi, assistant secretary of health, announced in a reportedly "terse" statement that Keroack would step down. "Keroack alerted us to an action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid," Agwunobi said. "As a result of this action I accepted his resignation."

What Medicaid officials are looking into isn't clear, but in a letter to staff, Keroack wrote that he hired an attorney to represent him in appealing an "action" taken against him by Medicaid officials. "My attorney feels confident that misunderstandings have occurred and that upon further review of the facts during the appeals process, this action will be reversed," he wrote.

News that Keroack is out pleased women's-health-care advocates, who are calling on Bush to actually appoint someone qualified to the family-planning post. "Keroack was unqualified to run the nation's family-planning program," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said. "The Bush administration must replace Keroack with a legitimate, mainstream public-health expert who supports family planning and access to birth control. The nation's family-planning program should be run by a champion for women's health and safety."

In other reproductive-health-related news, on April 2, Bush appointee Wade Horn, who has served since 2001 as HHS' assistant secretary of children and families, announced he would step down to take a private consulting job. Horn oversaw 65 programs that serve children and families – including expanded money for faith-based social services, expanded funding for abstinence-only sex ed, and programs that "promote" marriage and aim to "produce" good fathers.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

family planning funds, Reproductive health, Planned Parenthood, Eric Keroack, Medicaid, Wade Horn

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