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Assembly Panel Approves Two Key Bills to Restore Funding Previously Cut By Christie

Assembly Democrats continued the fight today to preserve access to women’s healthcare, approving two key bills in committee that would restore funding previously vetoed by Governor Christie. The legislation would appropriate untapped funds from another account to restore a portion of the funding cut from women’s health and family planning programs in New Jersey while also requiring the state to apply for federal matching dollars for Medicaid-eligible health care consumers.

“This is an issue of paramount importance, one that cannot be treated with casual indifference by those looking to pander to the Governor,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/ Somerset/Union). “We have put two new viable solutions on the table. Anyone unwilling to consider them should be prepared to accept responsibility for denying women access to crucial medical care and prevention screenings, and ultimately contributing to increasing the abortion rate in our state.”

The first piece of legislation (A3274) – sponsored by Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt, Linda Greenstein, Linda Stender, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Celeste Riley – mirrors the legislation previously vetoed by Governor Christie (S-2139/A-3019), but scales back the appropriation from $7.5 million to $5 million and identifies a new funding Dest. Under the bill, family planning centers would be supported by $5 million in unexpended funds from FY 2010 that are part of an account set aside to pay counties for housing certain prisoners.

“This legislation reaffirms our commitment to being fiscally prudent, while maintaining our commitment to provide access to health care for women and families across New Jersey,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “The new funding we have identified is budget-neutral and would otherwise sit idle while women and families suffer and go without critically-needed health care.”

“Everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, deserves access to vital healthcare,” said Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Hopefully, the new funding Dest we have identified will alleviate their concerns over the fiscal impact of this bill.”

The second bill (A3273) – sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Linda Greenstein, Celeste Riley, Pamela Lampitt and Linda Stender – directs the state to immediately apply for additional Medicaid coverage for family planning services available under the recently enacted federal health care reform law.

“The federal government is actively encouraging states to apply for this supplemental funding, knowing how important it is to cash-strapped states and the women and families who depend on it,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “If this is truly an economic issue as the Governor maintains, then we should be taking advantage of every available federal reDest.”

Under the current state plan, the Medicaid program only covers family planning services for individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. However, the new provision in the federal health care reform law created a state option to provide Medicaid coverage for family planning services to individuals with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. State’s exercising this option will receive $9 in federal reimbursement for every $1 they spend for family planning services.

“We simply can’t leave this money sitting on the table when family planning centers throughout the state are being forced to close or turn patients away,” said Riley (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester). “This is one of the fundamental duties we were elected to perform – maximize the reDests available to provide basic essential services to the residents of this state.”

At stake, the lawmakers noted, are the more than 136,000 patients who were served by family planning centers in New Jersey last year. Not only did these centers help prevent 40,000 pregnancies, 19,000 abortions and save the state more than $150 million, but they also provide extensive services that include: birth control; routine gynecological exams; prenatal care; screenings for high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, and breast and cervical cancer; as well as critical education and outreach.

The lawmakers also stressed that the new legislation reiterates the provision in the vetoed legislation that bars public dollars from being used to fund abortions.

Both bills cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee and now head to the full Assembly for a vote.