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Weinberg-Vitale Bill To Reverse Cuts To Women’s Health, Family Planning Services Advances

Measure Would Also Require State to Seek Medicaid Expansion for More Low-Income Individuals to Access Family Planning Services

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Joseph Vitale which would reverse nearly $7.5 million in cuts in the Governor’s proposed FY 2011 Budget for women’s health and family planning services, and would require the State to apply to the federal government for a Medicaid expansion to make family planning services available to more low-income individuals was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a vote of 8-3, with two abstentions.

“It is absolutely unconscionable that Governor Christie would consider balancing his budget by putting women’s health at risk,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “He’s putting conservative values and principles ahead of the needs of women on limited incomes, who have nowhere else to turn for the most basic reproductive health services. New Jersey’s women deserve better than to be in the crosshairs of a conservative governor looking to use the budget process to enforce his own political ideology.”

“When you consider that the services being targeted by the Governor’s cuts include gynecological and cancer screening, this is a matter of life and death for women who can’t afford the high cost of health insurance,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and vice chair of the Senate health panel. “When you consider that many women who are the victims of sexual assault go to these clinics for help, these cuts would potentially commit women to a cycle of re-victimization and abuse. These funds cut to the very core of New Jersey’s responsibility to the working poor and victims of sexual assault.”

The bill, S-2139, would restore the $7.5 million in grants to organizations providing family planning services and women’s health care in New Jersey that was cut from the Governor’s proposed FY 2011 Budget. The lawmakers noted that the $7.5 million in cuts to family planning services would restrict access to basic reproductive health for women across the State, including contraception, pregnancy detection, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, routine gynecological and cancer screening, and other health services, including prenatal and postpartum care, menopausal services and infertility testing. The funds in question would not be used to cover abortions, according to the legislators.

The senators added that the bill is cost-neutral because an amendment to the bill identifies surplus funds in the State Employees’ Prescription Drug Program. In the Governor’s FY 2011 proposed budget, he projected that the program would grow by ten percent, while the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services has recently determined the projected growth to be around four percent. Senator Weinberg and Senator Vitale said that their amended bill would tap four percent of the Governor’s projected funding for the prescription program, leaving enough funding to meet the prescription program’s needs.

In addition to restoring the $7.5 million cuts to family planning services, the bill would require the State to apply for an expansion of Medicaid coverage, to allow women between 134 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level – or earning between $29,547 and $44,100 a year in income – to receive family planning services under the Medicaid program. The Senators noted that the recently enacted federal health care reform law created a state option to expand Medicaid services for individuals up to 200 percent of the poverty level, and that 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.

“When you consider that the new Medicaid rules would net New Jersey $9 for every $1 spent, the cuts proposed by the Governor become less about budget realities and more about ideological divides,” said Senator Vitale. “Funding for women’s reproductive health is not a luxury that we can only afford to pay for during the boom years, and then let lapse during the bust years. Particularly with the generous federal match, and the fact that denying women access to basic reproductive health services will likely cause cost increases elsewhere in the health care safety net, we can’t afford to let these programs wither on the vine.”

“New Jersey has a history of standing up for the health care needs of people who would otherwise be unable to access medical care,” said Senator Weinberg. “The Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee today sided with conservative values over compassion for people in need of our State’s health care safety net, but I continue to hope that my legislative colleagues will listen to reason, and vote in favor of restoration of family planning services on the floor. I believe that bipartisan support for this measure on the floor would send a message to the Governor, and partisan purity will come as little consolation to women whose healthcare is put in jeopardy by short-sighted funding cuts.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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