Assembly Panel Approves Watson Coleman Measure to Restore Key Funding for Vital Women’s Health Services

Bill Now Set for Final Legislative Approval

The Assembly Budget Committee on Friday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman to restore funding for critical health services for low and middle income women that had been eliminated by Governor Christie the last two years.

“For the last two years, women and low-income families have been the sacrificial lambs of the Governor’s budget priorities,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “It’s time to stop playing games with people’s lives. These health centers provide critical, life-saving services to those who would otherwise not have access to them. This is a worthy investment that saves money in the long-run through preventative care.”

The bill (A-3204) appropriates $7,453,000 in funding for Family Planning Services grants that had been eliminated from the FY 2011 budget, resulting in both the closing of facilities that provide women’s health services and a reduction in the availability of such services.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, it is estimated that the preventative services provided by family planning clinics saves taxpayers $3.74 for every $1 that is spent.

Additionally, the bill requires the Department of Human Services to submit a State Plan Amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand Medicaid coverage for family planning services to individuals with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

This expansion would generate a 90 percent federal reimbursement and would make the provision of these services cost-effective from a state financial perspective. Based upon available information, the state Medicaid program’s existing appropriation contains sufficient funds to support any additional state cost associated with this expansion.

Watson Coleman noted that the bill also implicitly states that funds cannot be used for abortion procedures.

Since Governor Christie first eliminated this funding two years ago, Democratic lawmakers have continued to fight to restore the roughly $7.5 million needed to help provide approximately 131,000 women, children and families with access to 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; contraception; HIV testing and counseling, pre-pregnancy counseling and education; pregnancy testing and confirmation and prenatal care.

Over the last two years, the Governor’s cuts in funding have forced many clinics to scale back their services and hours and more than a handful throughout the state have closed. In 2011, the first full year after Christie eliminated the funding, statewide family planning providers have seen across-the-board decreases in vital services, including:

  • 26,000 fewer patients served compared with 2009 – a 19% drop
  • 16,614 fewer clinical breast exams compared with 2009 – a 23.6% drop
  • HIV tests decreased by 6% from 2009

The measure was approved 8 to 4 by the Assembly Budget Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.