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HHS official facing legal action resigns

Mass. Medicaid office targets his private practice

WASHINGTON -- The head of the federal office responsible for providing women with access to contraceptives and counseling to prevent pregnancy resigned unexpectedly yesterday after Medicaid officials took action against him in Massachusetts.

The Health and Human Services Department provided no details about the nature of the Massachusetts action that led to Dr. Eric Keroack's resignation.

Five months ago, Keroack was chosen by President Bush to oversee the department's Office of Population Affairs and its $283 million annual budget. The pick angered Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups that viewed him as opposed to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Keroack had worked for an organization that opposes contraception.

"Yesterday, Dr. Eric Keroack alerted us to an action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid. As a result of this action I accepted his resignation," Dr. John Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health, said in a statement last evening.

Massachusetts Medicaid officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Keroack's office oversees family planning services provided through the Title X program. Services include breast and cervical cancer screening . Services are given on a sliding scale based on income, and no one is refused service based on inability to pay.

Keroack told his staff in a letter yesterday that he became aware of the action being taken against his private medical practice in Massachusetts. He said he immediately hired a lawyer to initiate an appeal. He did not elaborate on why the action was taken.

"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. "However, the appeals process will present a significant distraction to my ability to remain focused on my duties."

A physician profile published by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine said Keroack's private practice is based in Marblehead .

It also said Keroack had no criminal convictions or disciplinary action taken against him in the past 10 years.

Rick Klein of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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