TRENTON – At a news conference at the Statehouse yesterday, senators who supported S-2139 – legislation which would restore $7.5 million in funding cut from the FY 2011 Budget for women’s health and family planning services – urged the Governor to act on the legislation and stand up for access to basic health care for women in New Jersey.
“This is a matter of standing up for life-saving medical care for women who have no where else to turn,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, the prime sponsor of the bill. “In the State Senate, we put aside party affiliation and approved the bill with a bipartisan, veto-proof majority, because we recognize that there are some things more important than political ideology. We hope the Governor can put conservative philosophy aside and support this measure.”
The bill, S-2139, would restore the $7.5 million in grants to organizations providing family planning services and women’s health care in New Jersey that was cut from the Governor’s FY 2011 Budget. The lawmakers noted that the $7.5 million in cuts to family planning services would restrict access to basic reproductive health for women across the State, including contraception, pregnancy detection, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV testing, routine gynecological and cancer screening – including screening for breast cancer – and other health services, including prenatal and postpartum care, menopausal services and infertility testing. The funds in question would not be used to cover abortions, according to the legislators.
“We’ve worked to address the Governor’s concerns,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, and another bill sponsor. “We’ve found a cost-neutral funding solution which does not affect the budget’s bottom line, and we’ve clarified what was already in practice – that State funds would not be used to provide abortions. For uninsured women who may be at risk of having cancer, or for the victims of sexual assault who turn to family planning clinics to receive basic support services, the Governor needs to act on this bill.”
The senators added that the bill is cost-neutral because it identifies surplus funds in the State Employees’ Prescription Drug Program. In the Governor’s FY 2011 proposed budget, he projected that the program would grow by ten percent, while the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services has recently determined the projected growth to be around four percent. The legislators said that the bill would tap four percent of the Governor’s projected funding for the prescription program, leaving enough funding to meet the prescription program’s needs.
“This funding restoration will not bankrupt the State of New Jersey, and would help save lives for women who cannot afford health insurance,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex. “Whether you’re a college student trying to balance the cost of tuition and other living expenses, or a single mother struggling to make ends meet for yourself and your family, these clinics provide vital medical care at a fraction of the cost. Governor Christie should recognize that funding for these programs actually saves the State money in the long run, and helps women get access to the health care programs they need.”
The senators noted that 136,000 patients accessed care through women’s health and family planning programs last year. Through these programs, nearly 40,000 unplanned pregnancies and 19,000 abortions were avoided. More than 70,000 women received breast exams, and more than 4,000 were referred to additional testing due to the results of those exams. In total, the State saved more than $150 million which would have been absorbed elsewhere in the State’s health care safety net.
In addition to restoring the $7.5 million cuts to family planning services, the bill would require the State to apply for an expansion of Medicaid coverage, to allow women between 134 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level – or earning between $29,547 and $44,100 a year in income – to receive family planning services under the Medicaid program. The Senators noted that the recently enacted federal health care reform law created a state option to expand Medicaid services for individuals up to 200 percent of the poverty level, and that New Jersey would receive $9 in federal reimbursement for every additional $1 the State spends for family planning services through the State’s Medicaid program.
“Governor Christie has had this legislation for 10 days, and has yet to indicate whether he will act on the bill – either in terms of signing it or vetoing it, and sending it back to the Legislature,” said Weinberg. “The longer he delays, more and more women will be turned away from women’s health clinics because the funding just isn’t there to provide the level of services that were previously provided. We hope the Governor will act on this legislation soon, so that women in New Jersey will know where they can go to get basic reproductive health care.”
Weinberg added that she will devote the July 19 hearing of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, which she chairs, to looking at the impact on women’s health care caused by the $7.5 million in cuts. She said that she hopes the Governor acts before then, but said that the hearing will be a chance to discuss the State’s inability to provide alternative access to women’s health care, and what can be done for New Jersey women in need.