$7.5 Million Plan Would Benefit & Protect Women, Newborns

(TRENTON) — Assembly Democratic women legislators, for the second day in a row, called on Gov. Chris Christie Friday to act on legislation to restore $7.5 million in cuts for women’s health programs in the recently enacted FY 2011 state budget.

“Restoring these vital programs will save lives and money,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union), a vocal opponent of Christie’s cuts to women’s healthcare. “We continue to urge Gov. Christie to enact this restoration so that we can continue to prevent New Jerseyans — especially women — from needlessly dying from diseases that can be treated with proper screening.”

The legislation (A-3019) would reverse Gov. Christie’s $7.5 million cut to family planning and women’s health services in New Jersey. These services involve contraception; routine gynecological exams; screening for high blood pressure, anemia and diabetes; breast and cervical cancer screening and education; screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections; HIV testing and counseling, pre-pregnancy counseling and education; pregnancy testing and confirmation and prenatal care. None of the funding would be used to cover abortion services.

“Investing in family planning services will save the state 20 times what it costs to restore the programs,” said Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “We again urge the governor to enact this legislation as soon as possible.”

According to the lawmakers, the bill is revenue neutral, taking funding from surplus funds in the State Employees’ Prescription Drug Program. Gov. Christie’s budget projects the program’s growth at 10 percent; the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projects the program’s growth at 4 percent. The bill would use 4 percent of the governor’s projected funding for the prescription program to fund the restoration, leaving enough funding to still meet the prescription program’s needs.

The lawmakers also noted more than 136,000 patients were served by family planning in New Jersey last year, helping prevent 40,000 pregnancies and 19,000 abortions and saving the state more than $150 million.

“Gov. Christie may still have his back turned on vital services for women and newborns in his budget but he has the ability to correct his mistake by signing this legislation,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Doing so will improve public health while saving taxpayers money.”

“The health needs of poor and working-class families — especially women, mothers and newborns — cannot simply be written off to balance the state’s books, whatever the governor may think,” said Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “For the sake of the families who depend on this funding to stay healthy, we once again urge Gov. Christie to sign this bill.”

In addition to restoring the $7.5 million in cuts to women’s health programs, 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. By expanding Medicaid enrollment, 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.

“For the second day, we insist Gov. Christie act swiftly on this measure,” said Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Camden). “If he enacts it, then he undoes a significant slight against poor women and families in the state. If he vetoes it, then he calls into question his true motivations for the cut.”

“This bill does more than just provide healthcare for poor women and newborns, it saves taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating these women and infants in hospital emergency rooms after they have become seriously ill,” said Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen). “If Gov. Christie is serious about saving taxpayers money, we again ask him to prove it by signing this bill into law.”

“This is about more than just health services, it is a fundamental debate about access to healthcare,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). “We believe that regardless of sex, race, religion or socioeconomic status, every New Jerseyan has the right to seek certain fundamental healthcare services. We continue to hope Gov. Christie feels the same way.”

“The health needs of women differ from men, especially when it comes to routine screenings and exams; many diseases that strike women require regular checkups to detect,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “We continue to hope Gov. Christie does what is necessary to reverse his denial of these services to the poorest women, mothers and infants among us.”

“We met every critique and every objection in our efforts to have this critical funding restored,” said Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez (D-Hudson). “It continues to be up to Gov. Christie to show us whether he is with or against New Jersey’s most vulnerable women.”

“From the millionaire’s tax veto to this funding cut, Gov. Christie has engaged in class warfare throughout his budget,” said Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex). “We again ask him to take a step back, recognize his mistake on the issue of women’s healthcare and restore the funding as soon as possible.”

“We believe that the job of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss, Ed.D. (D-Bergen). “We found a way to fulfill that goal where low-income women and families are concerned. It remains up to Gov. Christie to show us where his concerns lie.”

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