WEINBERG, STENDER, LEGISLATORS & ADVOCATES URGE ACTION ON WOMEN’S HEALTHCARE FUNDING

$7.5 Million Plan Would Benefit & Protect Women, Newborns

(TRENTON) — Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, representatives of women’s health organizations and legislators who support access to women’s health programs called on Gov. Chris Christie Thursday to act on legislation to restore $7.5 million in cuts for women’s health programs in the recently enacted FY 2011 state budget.

“Today, we’re calling on Gov. Christie to do the right thing and restore funding for women’s health programs,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen), chair of the Senate Health Committee. “The bill which passed both legislative houses is budget neutral, and preserves our commitment to provide access to basic health care for women who have nowhere else to turn. We hope that the governor can put women’s health and safety ahead of political ideology, but we stand ready to work to overturn his veto, just in case.”

“Restoring these vital programs will save lives and money,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union), a vocal opponent of Christie’s cuts to women’s healthcare. “We 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.”

“When you boil down the debate, restoring funding for women’s health programs is about three things: quality of life, the priorities we embrace as New Jerseyans and a woman’s fundamental right to control her own health,” said Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “Regardless of the outcome, we are asking the governor to act, and act soon, because ever day he delays lives will be needlessly lost.”

“Thousands of New Jerseyans depend on the services they receive from family planning clinics to get life-saving health care screening and treatment each year,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex). “Whether the patient in question is an uninsured college student or a working single mother, these agencies are an integral part of the state’s health care safety net and merit continued state support.”

The legislation (S-2139/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 urge the governor to enact this legislation as soon as possible.”

“When a woman gets sick, her entire family suffers,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “Gov. Christie could help prevent much of that suffering with the stroke of a pen.”

“These programs fund cancer screening, victim services for women who’ve been sexually assaulted, prenatal care, HIV testing, and so many other important health services,” said Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), vice chair of the Senate Health Committee. “At a time when more and more New Jerseyans are dealing with unemployment and the effects of the recession, access to decent medical care is crucial in helping people make ends meet.”

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.

“Even during our most difficult economic times, we have to protect our most vulnerable residents,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex/Union). “Funding for women’s health programs enables working class people who don’t have the benefit of health insurance to still access the services they depend on to stay healthy. When you consider that the sponsors have found a budget-neutral solution to restore the Governor’s funding cuts, there’s no excuse to deny women these programs.”

“Gov. Christie may have callously turned his back 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 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.

“Gov. Christie must 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.”

“We have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer). “Positive action on this legislation from Gov. Christie will ensure they receive the care they need to live healthy, productive lives, all while saving taxpayer dollars.”

“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 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 hope Gov. Christie feels the same way.”

“Women, whether they’re poor or rich, deserve to have healthcare options beyond, ‘Go to the emergency room,'” said Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex). “The governor has the ability to provide them with those options with nothing more than his signature.”

“We have demonstrated both the need for these services and a way to fund them without impacting the budget’s bottom line,” said Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen). “We have put the bill on Gov. Christie’s desk and would ask him for the courtesy of action, one way or the other.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is penny-wise and pound-foolish policy,” said Assemblywoman Joan M. Quigley (D-Hudson). “Restoring this funding, at no cost to
taxpayers, will wind up saving the state tens of millions of dollars down the road. We are asking — no, begging — Gov. Christie to do the right thing for poor women and their families.”

“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 would 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 is now 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 are asking 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 is now up to Gov. Christie to show us where his concerns lie.”

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