(TRENTON) – In light of National Women’s Health Week, Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Linda Stender, and Linda Greenstein today turned a spotlight on women’s health in New Jersey by urging every woman in Governor Christie’s administration to join them in supporting the restoration of funding for vital family planning agencies throughout the state, which the Governor has slated for elimination.
Presently, over one million New Jersey residents are uninsured. Governor Christie’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the entire $7.5 million appropriation for family planning agencies, which provide nearly 140,000 patients, most of which are un- or under-insured, with comprehensive health care services that include: 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.
“If this proposed funding cut is approved, 40,000 patients will not be treated by these agencies this year,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen), Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This cut may also force some of these health centers to close, creating a further influx of charity care cases for our hospitals and forcing them to provide expensive services that could have been avoided if these patients had access to simple preventative care. The numbers speak for themselves – for every $1 spent on family planning services, $4 in Medicaid funding is saved.”
“We cannot just turn away from vital services for women and newborns that improve public health and save taxpayer money,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “These programs save New Jersey significant money and bring more federal dollars into the state. All women, no matter their perspective, must come together and call on the Governor to preserve them for the good of all taxpayers.”
For many, family planning agencies are the only link to 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. Last year, family planning health centers in New Jersey provided reproductive and preventive health care to 126,903 women and 9,461 men; breast examinations to 70,506 women; and pap tests to 65,252 women. Overall, they served 97,129 women and men without health insurance.
These programs have been a sensible investment in New Jersey’s public health,” said Stender (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset). “Not only do they save money, but they help poor and working families obtain health care they otherwise couldn’t obtain. That should be a priority for everyone, including those who can convince the governor to do the right thing.”
“The governor’s lack of commitment to quality health care for women and newborns raises serious concerns. It’s time for all women to stand together against these cuts that will compromise public health and cost taxpayers more money,” said Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “During these tough economic times, we should be looking to maximize savings with effective programs, not discard programs that work for the benefit of everyone.”
Given the devastating loss of health services that this funding elimination would cause, Senator Weinberg proposed several budget alternatives that would enable the state to restore the appropriation. The first proposal would be to appropriate funding for family planning services from the increased allotment of $665 million that the Governor has proposed for charity care funding for hospitals this year. This solution follows the natural logic that a loss of family planning services will increase charity care cases for hospitals. By restoring family planning funding, the burden on hospitals will be reduced.
A partial restoration of $5 million for family planning would represent 0.8% of the $665 million charity care budget; a full restoration of $7.5 million would be 1.12% of the charity care budget. The second proposal Senator Weinberg unveiled would allow family planning agencies to apply for funding from the state’s Maternal, Child, and Chronic Health Services program, which awards a total of $26.7 million in grants for various programs aligned with the services family planning agencies deliver.
However, under this option, funding would be subject to approval of a grant application and not guaranteed. Under the third proposal, a portion of the state funds that are allotted to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to serve uninsured residents can instead be appropriated to family planning agencies to partially restore their eliminated funding. In addition to the $40 million that FQHCs receive through a 0.53% tax assessment on every hospital’s total operating revenue, they are also eligible for funding through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In FY 2009, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) provided gynecology services to 56,662 individuals, 23,230 of which were uninsured.
Allotting a portion of FQHC funding to family planning agencies, would help reduce some of the demand on the already inundated centers, which have seen a 32 percent increase in prenatal services since 2006. Senator Weinberg’s fourth proposal would entail using the $4 million “bonus payment” that the federal government has awarded New Jersey for its success with the state’s FamilyCare health insurance program. This payment could be used to help partially restore family planning funding. Senator Weinberg has already reached out to the State Treasurer to inquire about the state’s intention for this funding.
In light of the critical role family planning agencies play in the lives of women and the viable funding alternatives put forth today, Weinberg, Huttle, Stender and Greenstein have sent a letter to each woman in Governor Christie’s cabinet formally requesting their support on this endeavor.
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