Marking National Women’s Health Week In NJ, Weinberg And Gill Move To Expand Women’s Access To Critical Health Care Services

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Senators Call on Governor to End ‘War on Women’

TRENTON – Marking National Women’s Health Week in New Jersey, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Nia H. Gill today announced a new effort to expand women’s access to critical health care services in New Jersey.

During a press conference attended by health care professionals and women’s health advocates, the Senators called on the Governor to end his assault on women’s health care. Senators Weinberg and Gill announced their intention to restore funding for family planning services in the FY2013 budget and to leverage millions of dollars in additional funding for these services through a generous 9-to-1 match offered by the federal government.

“The governor has waged a war on the women of New Jersey since taking office, essentially creating a health care crisis for thousands of women of this state. Each time we have put forward a proposal to fund critical family planning services, the governor has hidden under the cover of ‘budget austerity.’ This year, he claimed we were entering healthier fiscal times, yet family planning services remained unfunded. Apparently, women weren’t part of the ‘comeback’ he had in mind,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen).

“It’s time for the governor to end the ‘War on Women.’ Despite the recent slumping revenue figures, we know that budgets are about priorities. We have identified a funding source that will restore family planning services in this year’s budget, and leverage millions of dollars in federal funding to reverse the disturbing decline in women’s access to health care that we have seen over the last two years.”

The Senators announced they will sponsor two budget resolutions to restore critical funding for family planning services in the FY2013 budget; the funding source for the restoration is a Salary Increases and Other Benefits account averaging $49 million in unexpended balances over the past two years. The first resolution would provide $7.59 million in grants for family planning services – grants the governor eliminated in the FY2011 spending plan and failed to provide in the FY2012 budget and the proposed FY2013 budget. The second resolution will make available $1 million to provide family planning services under Medicaid, which will be matched by $9 million in federal Medicaid funding. The measure would require the state to submit a State Plan Amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand the state’s Medicaid program to offer family planning services to individuals with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, up from the current 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The state will receive $9 in reimbursement for every $1 spent on family planning services.

“Since Governor Christie took office, six family planning clinics have closed and more than a dozen facilities have reduced services, scaled back hours of operation or laid off staff. We must halt the continued shrinking of health care services for women in the state and reinvest in health clinics and family planning centers across New Jersey so that women can get the preventive care they need,” said Senator Gill, (D-Essex, Passaic). “The reality is, we cannot afford to continue down this dangerous path of reducing services to women. Not only is it fiscally prudent to provide access to preventive services for women, but it is a health care necessity for this state. Today, we are calling on the governor to reject his party’s ideological stance in opposition to needed health care for women and to accept the funding the federal government has made available for vital health services in this state.”

The Senators called the governor’s veto of legislation to create a state-based health benefit exchange his latest assault on women’s health care, noting that as much as any group, women benefit from health care reform by making it more affordable, more accessible and by eliminating certain abuses that disproportionately affect women. They said by refusing to move forward with a state-based exchange, the governor is denying women the best way to create a marketplace for insurance care and the best means of enforcing the patient rights for women and others.

“Seventeen percent of adult women in New Jersey are uninsured, and for those who are earning a lower annual income and struggling to make ends meet, that rate more than doubles,” said Senator Gill, who sponsored the New Jersey Health Benefits Exchange Act. “These are women who would benefit from a state-based health insurance exchange, but may lose out because the governor is playing politics, presumably to curry favor with Mitt Romney, who has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected president, as well as the extreme right wing of his party.”

In their continued fight to expand women’s health care access in New Jersey, the Senators sponsored important pro-women’s health legislation, approved unanimously today by the Senate Commerce Committee, to expand access to critical breast screenings for thousands of women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer. The legislation (S-792) would require health insurers to cover comprehensive ultrasound breast screenings for women in the event a mammogram demonstrates dense breast tissue – which can block detection of a tumor by a mammogram – or if a woman is believed to be at increased risk for breast cancer due to family history. According to the advocacy group “Are You Dense, Inc.,” 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, and many do not even know it. Only one in 10 women learns about breast density from their physician, which can prove tragic. Mammography misses breast cancer in at least 40 percent of women with dense breast tissue.

The bill would require mammogram reports to contain information on breast density, based on the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System established by the American College of Radiology. When applicable, the bill would require the mammography report to include a notice to the woman regarding the availability of supplementary screening tests for breast density, and that the report of the mammography results would be sent to her physician. New Jersey would become the fourth state in the nation to enact such a law, following Connecticut, Texas and Virginia.

“New Jersey had historically been at the forefront when it comes to providing innovative preventive health measures for our residents. Despite the governor’s resistance to protecting New Jersey women, we will continue our effort to march forward on that front,” said Senator Gill. “This important legislation will improve early detection of breast cancer for thousands of women for whom a mammogram screening would potentially miss the existence of a lump or tumor. Ultimately this measure will save lives.”

“This legislation is an important women’s health measure that will vastly improve our ability to detect cancer early, and to treat it when the likelihood for a positive health outcome is at its best,” said Senator Weinberg. “It’s a commonsense policy from both a health and financial standpoint, as it will improve health care outcomes for women but also significantly reduce the cost of treatment for women diagnosed with cancer. These are the kinds of policies we will continue to fight for in order to provide New Jersey women with the best health care services possible.”

National Women’s Health Week is celebrated from May 13 through May 19 to promote awareness, prevention, and educational activities that improve the health of all women.