State officials defend law barring funds to sex offenders

Posted: September 25, 2013 at 4:29 p.m.

Arkansas officials on Wednesday asked a judge to allow the state to continue enforcing a prohibition on paying Medicaid funds to sex offenders, saying a doctor convicted of possessing child pornography 13 years ago hasn't proven he would be irreparably harmed by the restriction.

Attorneys for the state Department of Human Services asked a federal judge to reject Dr. Lonnie Joseph Parker's request for a preliminary injunction blocking the law's enforcement while he challenges its constitutionality. A hearing on Parker's request is scheduled for Thursday.

Parker was convicted in 2000 of possessing child pornography and served more than four years in prison, but he has long maintained his innocence. In 2005, the state Medical Board reinstated his license to practice medicine in Arkansas. Parker and three of his patients filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the restriction on Medicaid, the federal-state program that helps pay for health care for the needy and disabled.

DHS attorneys argued the restriction served a legitimate public interest and was consistent with other state laws regarding registered sex offenders.

"Granting the injunction will defeat the long-stated public policy of the state of Arkansas in protecting persons from convicted sex offenders," the attorneys said in a brief filed with the court.

Lawmakers approved the restriction, which took effect Aug. 16, earlier this year after an audit noted that Parker had received more than $489,000 in Medicaid payments. Parker has argued that the move would effectively end his practice, since 75 percent of his nearly 2,000 patients are recipients of Medicaid.

DHS officials, however, said Parker has not proven that he would be unable to practice medicine if he cannot serve Medicaid patients.

"Act 1504 does not foreclose Dr. Parker from providing continued medical services to the other plaintiffs or any other patient upon any terms (other than Medicaid payment) that are mutually agreeable to them," the brief said. "Even if no agreement is reached, irreparable harm to patient health care will not result from Dr. Parker's exclusion as a Medicaid provider."