TRENTON – A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost funding for women’s health care in the FY 2014 budget was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.
The measures – sponsored by Assemblywomen Connie Wagner, Linda Stender, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Annette Quijano, Gabriela Mosquera, Pamela Lampitt, Mila Jasey and Bonnie Watson Coleman – would restore the funding vetoed by Gov. Christie for women’s health centers and expand Medicaid coverage under new federal law to help serve some of the state’s poorest women.
The first bill (A-4171), sponsored by Wagner, Stender, Vainieri Huttle and Quijano, would expand Medicaid coverage of family planning services to non-pregnant individuals whose income does not exceed the highest income eligibility level established for pregnant women under current state plan, which is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level in New Jersey.
“This legislation reaffirms our commitment to being fiscally prudent, while maintaining our commitment to provide access to health care for struggling women across New Jersey,” said Wagner (D-Bergen/Passaic). “With the federal government covering 90 percent of the cost, this is an investment well worth making.”
“This is a wise and financially prudent move. We simply can’t leave this money sitting on the table when family planning centers throughout the state have been forced to close or turn patients away,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union).
This bill would exercise a state option provided under the federal “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” which permits states to expand family planning services through a state plan amendment. In doing so, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs for these services.
“This supplemental funding is critically important to cash-strapped states and the women and families who depend on it and we should be taking advantage of every available federal resource at our disposal,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
“One of the fundamental duties we’ve been elected to perform is to maximize available resources to provide basic essential services to the residents of this state,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Nothing is more essential than access to quality healthcare.”
The second bill (A-4172), sponsored by Mosquera, Lampitt, Stender, Jasey and Watson Coleman, would provide $7,453,000 in supplemental funding for the Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Appropriations Act for Family Planning Services grants through the state Department of Health.
The sponsors noted that Governor Christie has eliminated $7.4 million for women’s health care services from the FY 2011, FY 2012, and FY 2013 state budgets. In 2009, the funding helped support life-saving services for over 136,000 patients, including cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STIs, breast health services, Pap tests and other health screenings.
Assembly Democrats repeatedly attempted to restore the funding only to have it vetoed by Christie. As a result, six health centers have closed statewide, many have been forced to cut back or eliminate services and at least 33,000 fewer patients were served in 2012 compared with 2009, a 24 percent drop in patients served.
The funding has been prohibited from being used towards abortion services, as is expressly stated in the legislation approved Monday as well.
“This appropriation does more than just provide healthcare for poor women and newborns, it saves taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating these women and infants in hospital emergency rooms after they have become seriously ill,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester).
“In difficult economic times, access to critical health services becomes even more strained due to higher unemployment rates. This funding will help ensure that every New Jerseyan, regardless of sex, race, religion or socioeconomic status, has the right to seek certain fundamental healthcare services,” said Lampitt (D-Camden).
“We can’t afford to continue turning our backs on women and newborns as the Governor has done in his last few budgets,” said Stender. “Restoring this funding will improve public health for some of our least fortunate, while saving taxpayers money in the long-run.”
“In difficult fiscal times, the priorities we choose show our character as a state,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “From a financial perspective this is a cost effective way to improve the health and well being of women and children in New Jersey.”
“We continue to take this fight to the budget once again because we believe it is one worth fighting,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Access to life-saving cancer screenings and preventative services should be a right, not a privilege.”
The bills were approved by the Assembly Budget Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.
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