SENATE APPROVES WEINBERG & SWEENEY BILLS TO FUND WOMEN’S HEALTH CARE

Senate Majority Leader Weinberg addresses the audience at the Women's Lobby Day Rally

TRENTON – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senate President Steve Sweeney that would restore state funds for family planning centers. The Senate also approved a second bill, sponsored by the senators, to extend Medicaid coverage of family planning services to more women by leveraging federal matching funds.

The first bill, S-3302, would restore $7.5 million in funding cut by Governor Christie for family planning clinics that provide a wide range of services for women. The second bill, S-3248, would provide Medicaid coverage for family planning services to individuals with income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This expansion would entitle New Jersey to nine dollars in federal reimbursement for every additional dollar the State spends for family planning services provided through the Medicaid program.

“For seven years, New Jersey has been under siege from an anti-women’s health administration. The elimination of family planning funding and vetoes under this administration has put the health of women and families in New Jersey at risk,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We know $7.5 million is just a fraction of what has been lost over the years. But restoring this funding and attracting additional federal dollars is a step in the right direction as we look toward expanding access to women’s health care under a new governor.”

“Making sure that every woman in this state has access to family planning services is critically important,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland). “We’ve seen the dire consequences resulting from the defunding of these services by this administration, reducing access to preventive care, cancer screenings, STI testing and other healthcare services. Again, we passed this legislation in an attempt to make sure that health care facilities like Planned Parenthood are available and accessible to women in this state. We’re not going to give up on this fight, because it’s the right thing to do. We look forward to a new administration that will make this a priority.”

In the FY 2011 budget the governor eliminated $7.5 million in grants for family planning services. Due to the cuts, Planned Parenthood was forced to close six women’s health clinics. By 2012, New Jersey’s family planning providers saw at least 33,000 fewer patients—a 24% drop compared to 2009. Over seven years, the cuts and the governor’s vetoes of legislation to restore funding has amounted to a loss of $52 million. Planned Parenthood reports that rates of sexually transmitted diseases in New Jersey have increased by 35 percent – in some counties by 50 percent or more.

The grants would provide information and counseling on reproductive choices, physicals, cancer screenings, pregnancy testing, the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, prenatal counseling and substance abuse programs, among other important health services that many women can’t afford or are otherwise unable to access.

Extending Medicaid eligibility to non-pregnant women with income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level – the same threshold used for pregnant women – would provide increased access to family planning services and address substantial disparities and coverage gaps for New Jersey residents.

S-3302 was approved by a vote of 25-13. S-3248 was approved by a vote of 27-6. They next head to the Assembly for consideration.