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Stat check: No, Planned Parenthood does not get $500 million in federal funds

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A stat is adding fuel to the defund Planned Parenthood movement on Capitol Hill: The group receives over a half billion in federal funding every year. Some conservatives are prepared to let the government close its doors if these funds aren't cut.

The problem? Planned Parenthood doesn't receive half a billion in federal funds. A review of the organization's income suggests it's only a fraction of that. And while experts say figuring out an exact budget number is a near impossible feat, it is not even in the $500 million ballpark.

But the myth abounds, and it is animating the latest drama on Capitol Hill. "Could you please tell us why Planned Parenthood needs to get over half a billion dollars of federal funding every year when there are other pressing needs, such as feeding hungry children, that maybe we should put that money into?" Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) asked at yesterday's congressional hearing on the group.

"The United States is virtually borrowing a half a billion dollars from China and funneling that money through to Planned Parenthood," Rep. Steve King (R-IA) added.

The likely source of this myth is a Planned Parenthood report that states it receives just over $500 million in public funds, which include grants from the federal government, states, and local governments. That's a significant distinction. If conservatives on Capitol Hill want to slash the group's federal funding, they will have a hard time finding the half a billion.

Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in public funding last year

Every year, Planned Parenthood issues an annual report that breaks down where it gets funding. The most recent report shows that about 41 percent of the organization's budget comes from "government grants and reimbursements." You can see that in this chart.

(Planned Parenthood)

If you translate that graph into dollar figures, as this table does, the half-billion figure turns up:

(Planned Parenthood)

That $528.4 billion figure covers all public funding that Planned Parenthood receives. That means it includes money from the federal government but also any revenue that comes in from state or local governments.

Planned Parenthood does not provide a breakdown of those different revenue streams — that is, its budgeting doesn't see federal and state dollars any differently. And when you think about how Planned Parenthood gets government money, that actually makes sense.

Much of Planned Parenthood's public revenue comes from seeing Medicaid patients. Medicaid covers 71 million Americans, and whenever one of them has a Planned Parenthood visit, the clinic gets a reimbursement check.

That's where the accounting gets a bit tricky: Medicaid is a program jointly funded by the federal government and the state. Here in the District of Columbia, the federal government pays for 70 percent of the program — and the district picks up the rest. The match percentage varies by state; you can see all the states here.

But Planned Parenthood doesn't get separate checks from DC and the federal government when it sees a Medicaid patient. One check shows up, and the clinic knows it came from a public insurance plan. There's no clear breakdown in those payments between state and federal funds — which is one reason that breakdown doesn't show up in Planned Parenthood's budget, either.

What's more: Certain family planning services that Planned Parenthood provides have their own, separate match rate.

"You would need very granular data to get an accurate number [for federal funding], and we don't have that data," says Marsha Cross, who has studied Planned Parenthood's funding for the Government Accountability Office. "You'd need to know the exact medical services for each patient, how many were routine pelvic exams, how many were other things."

The real truth: Planned Parenthood gets less than $500 million from Congress

The most thorough look at Planned Parenthood's federal funding arguably comes from the Government Accountability Office, which published a lengthy report on the subject this past March.

GAO estimates that Planned Parenthood received $400 million in Medicaid reimbursements in 2012, the most recent year for which it had data. As GAO notes, this is an "over-estimate of federal reimbursements because [it includes] both federal and state payments for services." GAO does not break out which funds come from the state and which from the federal government.

"Is it technically possible to figure out the federal funding? Yes, but with a huge amount of work that would probably take a long time and effort," says Cross, who runs the agency's health-care division. "It requires a level of detail in the information that we did not obtain. The matching funds make it very complicated."

(Government Accountability Office)

Separate from Medicaid, Planned Parenthood also gets federal revenue through grants. The GAO report estimates that's in the ballpark of $90 million, with about $80 million coming through Health and Human Services (the chart is quite long, but it's on page 39 here).

Those figures, added together, nearly get to the amount of public revenue that Planned Parenthood says in its own budgets it receives — and that amount definitely includes money that is not coming from the federal government.

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