Weinberg Legislation To Expand Access To Family Planning Services Approved By Senate Budget Panel

Measure Would Provide Vital Health Care Services To More Low-Income Women And Families

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg to expand the availability of family planning services to more low-income women and families and provide the state access to critical federal family planning funds available under the recently-enacted national health care reform law was today approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

The measure (S-2393) would require the State to apply to the federal government for an expansion of Medicaid coverage to allow women earning between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level – or between $29,547 and $44,100 a year in income, for a family of four – to receive family planning services under the Medicaid program. By exercising this option offered by the federal government – which would increase eligibility from the current 133 percent ceiling – 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.

“In this economic climate, we should be doing everything we can as a state to take full advantage of federal funding opportunities, especially those that will help our most vulnerable residents,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “By expanding Medicaid coverage, we will ensure that more women are provided access to health screenings, breast exams, birth control, and other critical services they rely on to maintain their health. This is the right thing to do, both from a public health and a moral perspective.”

The Senator said the legislation would provide much-needed health care access to women already feeling the impact of the Governor’s $7.5 million family planning cut from the FY 2011 state budget. It would also be implemented at no cost to the state, since it would require the use of already existing family planning funds that are spread over a number of state accounts.

Specifically, the legislation would require the Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Senior Services, the Department of Children and Families, and the Office of Management and Budget, to combine into one special account all of the FY 2011 family planning services funding existing in various accounts for individuals whose income is between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The balance in this single special account would be used as matching funds when the state submits the State Plan Amendment to the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand New Jersey’s Medicaid program.

“It would be unconscionable to leave a 90 percent federal match on the table in Washington, DC while we are facing critical health care service cuts here in New Jersey, especially when you consider that we can capture this new money at no cost to the state,” Senator Weinberg added. “If this issue is really about the availability of funding for the Administration, and not political ideology, we should have no problem moving this forward with the Governor’s support.”

The Governor identified existing family planning funds in his veto message of S-2139, the family planning restoration bill, including reimbursement to Federally Qualified Health Centers for treating the uninsured, which he noted generally provide the same services as family planning clinics; $6 million in funding for low-income families through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Program (NJCEED); and $20 million for services such as prenatal care and services for fetal alcohol syndrome for low-income families. This legislation seeks to use the portion of those funds dedicated to individuals making between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level for the 10 percent match. In its own fiscal estimate of the bill, the Administration has indicated that it would require $1.1 million in state money to obtain $15.2 million in federal matching funds.

The legislation would also require that DHS file a report with the Legislature indicating the amounts the state spent in FY 2010 for family planning services to individuals with incomes between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, as well as the amounts the state appropriated in FY 2011.

The legislation contains a poison pill to ensure the provisions of the bill are carried out within 60 days of enactment. If they are not, the bill would eliminate the unexpended State FY2011 Direct State Services appropriation for the Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services in DHS.

Family planning services include information and counseling on reproductive choices and birth control methods; comprehensive physicals and health screenings; pelvic and breast exams; pregnancy testing; the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases; AIDS testing and counseling; prenatal substance abuse programs; as well as adolescent risk reduction counseling.

The legislation was approved 8-5 along party lines. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.