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Weinberg-Greenstein-Vitale Women’s Health Funding Bill Advances In Senate

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

Measure Would Restore Nearly $7.5 million Cut in Governor’s FY 2011 Budget

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg, Linda Greenstein and Joseph F. Vitale which would reverse the Governor’s cuts to women’s health and family planning programs in New Jersey and require the State to apply for federal matching funds for Medicaid-eligible women was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 26-13.

“Funding access to basic health services for women in need is an issue that cuts to the very heart and soul of what government is supposed to be about,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “The Governor’s funding cut of women’s health care in the last budget demonstrated that he’s willing to put socially conservative political ideology ahead of the health and safety of women in New Jersey. With the announcement earlier this month of a multi-million dollar revenue increase coming into the State, there’s simply no reason to continue to leave women without access to health care in the Garden State.”

“Whether you’re talking about blood pressure screening, cancer screening, family planning, STD testing and pre- and post-natal care, you’re talking about services which aren’t just important to women, but to their families as well,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Mercer and Middlesex. “Particularly as New Jersey’s families are struggling with increased unemployment, reduced employee benefits and lower salaries as a result of the recession, we need to maintain our commitment to funding women’s health care access for those in need. This bill is about our priorities as a state, and ensures that we will not forget women’s health when women and their families are struggling to make ends meet.”

The bill, S-2899, would appropriate nearly $7.5 million in State funds for women’s health and family planning programs. The bill would also require the State to file a plan amendment with the federal government to extend Medicaid coverage for family planning services for people up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or families earning up to $44,700 a year in income. The bill is identical in purpose to previous legislation introduced and advanced last year to restore women’s health care funds.

Senators Weinberg and Greenstein noted that the Governor had previously refused to fund these programs, citing budgetary constraints. However, at a recent hearing in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, it was revealed that budget projections from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services and the State Treasurer indicated between $500 million to $900 million in additional income tax revenues. Funding the total amount needed to restore severe cuts to women’s health care would only require a small percentage of the increased income tax revenues in the current fiscal year, according to the lawmakers.

“The simple fact of the matter is that the Governor’s cuts to family planning and women’s health services have left women at a disadvantage in receiving basic health care,” said Senator Greenstein, who serves as a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “With unexpected revenues coming into the State, I think it’s fiscally wise and socially conscientious to reverse cuts to women’s health care. When you consider the total savings to the State from federal matching funds, there’s simply no fiscal argument you can make against investing this money in programs that make a difference in people’s lives.”

Senator Greenstein added funding women’s health programs and applying for federal matching funds could save the State $43 million a year in additional costs throughout the rest of health care safety net for the working poor – a net increase of nearly five times the State’s initial investment.

In the year since funding was cut for women’s health and family planning services, more than 40,000 women were turned away from women’s health clinics and family planning centers in New Jersey which were simply unable to provide the level of services they had before. Six of the 58 women’s health centers in New Jersey have closed their doors permanently, and many more have significantly reduced their hours.

“The Governor has said that the FQHCs (federally-qualified health centers) can handle the influx in new patients, but representatives from the FQHCs have told us that they’re facing a massive increase in demand while simultaneously facing a State reduction in reimbursement rates,” said Senator Weinberg. “Similarly, hospital emergency rooms are not an appropriate setting for women’s health care, and many provide only limited family planning services. The Governor can attempt to rationalize his cuts all he wants, but at the end of the day, this amounts to Chris Christie joining in the national war on women being perpetrated by the ultra-conservative political establishment in this country.

“It’s time for Governor Christie to put political ideology aside, and end his war on women,” added Senator Weinberg. “Funding women’s health care is a matter of priority for New Jersey residents, and we hope at the end of the day that the Governor can see past his ambitions for higher political office to sign this common sense bill into law.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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