Assembly Approves Democratic Measures to Boost Funding for Women’s Health Care

Mazzeo, Eustace, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle, McKeon, Pintor Marin, Lagana, Jasey, Mukherji Bill Package Restores Funding for Women's Health Centers & Expands Medicaid Coverage

A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost funding for health care for low and middle income women and their children in the FY 2016 budget received final legislative approval on Thursday.

The measures - sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Tim Eustace, Gabriela Mosquera, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, John McKeon, Eliana Pintor Marin, Joseph Lagana, Mila Jasey and Raj Mukherji - would restore the funding eliminated by Gov. Christie for women's health centers and expand Medicaid coverage under federal law to help serve some of the state's poorest women.

The first bill (A-3672), sponsored by Mazzeo, Eustace, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle and McKeon, would provide $7,453,000 in supplemental funding for Family Planning Services grants through the state Department of Health. 

The measure was approved by a vote of 48-31.

"In difficult fiscal times, the priorities we choose show our character as a state," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "From a financial perspective, this relatively small investment pays enormous dividends and is a cost effective way to improve the health and well being of women and children in New Jersey."

"With New Jersey's slow recovery from the recession and Gov. Christie's continual veto of this funding, access to critical health services for low and middle income women and children has been strained for quite some time now," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "With our economy steadily making gains and revenue collections improving, it's time to stop playing games and make this funding a priority once again."

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. 

However, since taking office in 2010, Governor Christie has routinely eliminated $7.4 million for women's health care services in the state budget. Assembly Democrats have repeatedly attempted to restore the funding only to have it vetoed by Christie. 

As a direct result of the governor's cut, 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 poor women and newborns," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "But beyond that, it also saves taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent treating these women and infants in hospital emergency rooms after they have become seriously ill - a situation that should be avoided at all costs." 

"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 continue to fight this fight each year as we craft the state budget."

"We can't afford to continue turning our backs on women and newborns as the governor has done in each of his budgets," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "Restoring this funding will improve public health for some of our least fortunate, while saving taxpayers money in the long-run."

The sponsors noted that the funding has been prohibited from being used towards abortion services, as is expressly stated in the legislation approved today as well.

The second bill (A-4604), sponsored by Pintor Marin, Lagana, Jasey and Mukherji, 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. 

The measure was approved by a vote of 48-30.

"Not only is this funding a compassionate move, it's a financially prudent one, as well," said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). "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."

"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," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). 

"One of the fundamental duties we've 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.

Both bills await final legislative approval by the Senate today before heading to the Governor's desk.