Assembly Panel OKs Democratic Measures to Restore Christie-Era Cuts to Critical Women’s Health Funding

Mazzeo, Downey, Mosquera, Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle, Jimenez, Pintor Marin, Sumter, Lagana, Jasey, Mukherji Bill Package Appropriates $7.45 Mill for Women’s Health Centers & Expands Medicaid Coverage

(TRENTON) – A two-bill package that will restore healthcare funding for women and children that the Christie administration had cut for the last eight years was advanced Monday by the Assembly Budget Committee.
The panel advanced the bills during its first hearing chaired by Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex), who has long championed restoring the critical funding.
The measures – sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Joann Downey, Gabriela Mosquera, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Angelica Jimenez, Pintor Marin, Shavonda Sumter, Joseph Lagana, Mila Jasey, and Raj Mukherji – would restore the $7.45 million in funding for women’s health centers eliminated by Gov. Christie and expand Medicaid coverage under federal law to help serve some of the state’s poorest women.
“The health and well-being of women and children in New Jersey is facing threats from every angle – from Gov. Christie’s eight-year assault on women’s health centers to the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act and the recent lapse in funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Consequently, we’ve made this legislation one of our first priorities for the new legislative session now that we have a governor who is willing to sign it. It’s incumbent upon us to step up to the plate at the state level to ensure that access to vital preventive healthcare services like mammograms, cancer screenings, and prenatal care is a right, not a privilege.”
The first bill (A-2134), sponsored by Mazzeo, Downey, Mosquera, Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle, Jimenez, Pintor Marin, Sumter would provide $7,453,000 for the current fiscal year in supplemental funding for Family Planning Services grants through the state Department of Health.
“Access to preventative screenings, routine exams and low-cost birth control are often scarce in many communities, but particularly so since the Christie administration cut funding for women’s health, forcing the closure of a number of women’s health centers throughout the state,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Now we finally have the chance to make good on our promise to restore this funding once and for all.”
Despite being funded in every state budget since 1970, Governor Christie routinely eliminated the $7.4 million appropriation for women’s health care services in the state budget every year of his tenure. Assembly Democrats repeatedly attempted to restore the funding only to have it vetoed by Christie.
The sponsors noted that in 2009 this funding helped support life-saving services for over 136,000 patients, including cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STIs, breast health services, Pap tests and other health screenings. As a direct result of Christie’s cuts, six out of 58 women’s health and family planning centers closed while other health centers had to cut back staff or hours. In 2013, New Jersey’s family planning providers saw at least 37,000 fewer patients compared with 2009 – a 27 percent drop in patients served.
“First and foremost, this appropriation provides critical healthcare services for women and newborns,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “But beyond that, it also saves taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating women and infants in hospital emergency rooms after they have become seriously ill – a situation that should be avoided at all costs.”
“Women’s reproductive health has been at risk for the last eight years,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “From 2009 to 2013 there was a significant rise in breast and cervical cancer cases among New Jersey women and STD’s are on the rise as well. Restoring this funding is critical to public health for some of our least fortunate and will save taxpayers money in the long-run.”
“Access to things like life-saving cancer screenings and preventative health services should be a right, not a privilege,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This is something we believe strongly in and that’s why we have continued to fight this fight for the last eight years. Now that we have a partner in the governor’s office, we can finally rectify the wrong that has been done to the vulnerable women and children of our state.”
“Between Gov. Christie’s repeated elimination of this funding and the attacks on women’s healthcare at the federal level, it’s more crucial than ever that we rise to the occasion in New Jersey and make sure struggling women and their children know we are here for them and their health is a priority,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson).
“I want the women in this state to know that their voices are heard and their right to affordable healthcare and reproductive services will be protected,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This relatively small investment will pay enormous dividends in terms of providing access to critical care and peace of mind for those with little where else to turn.”
The sponsors noted that the legislation expressly prohibits the funding from being used towards abortion services.
The second bill (A-1656), sponsored by Pintor Marin, Lagana, Jasey, Mukherji and Downey, would expand Medicaid coverage of family planning services to non-pregnant individuals whose income does not exceed the highest income eligibility level established for pregnant women under current state plan, which is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level in New Jersey.
“Not only is this funding a compassionate move, it’s a financially prudent one, as well,” said Pintor Marin. “We can’t leave this money sitting on the table when women’s health centers throughout the state have been forced to close or turn patients away. With the federal government covering 90 percent of the cost, this is an investment well worth making on behalf of struggling women and families across New Jersey.”
“The fiscal priorities we choose show our character as a state,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This supplemental funding is critically important to cash-strapped states and the women and families who depend on it and we should be taking advantage of every available federal resource at our disposal.”
“One of the fundamental duties we have been elected to perform is to maximize available resources to provide basic essential services to the residents of this state,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “Nothing is more essential than access to quality healthcare.”
“This is a wise and financially sound move. We can’t leave this money sitting on the table when family planning centers throughout the state have been forced to close, scale back their services or turn patients away, hitting residents in urban areas particularly hard,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).
This bill would exercise a state option provided under the federal “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” which permits states to expand family planning services through a state plan amendment. In doing so, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs for these services.
The bills now await consideration by the full Assembly.