Bills Would Expand Medicaid Coverage for Women's Health, Provide $7.5M for Family Planning
A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats to boost funding in the state's budget for health care for low- and middle-income women and their children gained approval from the General Assembly and the Senate on Monday. The measures now head to the governor's desk.
The first bill (A-1963), sponsored by Eliana Pintor Marin, Joseph Lagana, Mila Jasey, Raj Mukherji and Joann Downey, would expand Medicaid coverage for women's health care.
"This legislation represents the fundamental idea that all residents of New Jersey have a right to health care and the freedom to make personal choices about their well-being - regardless of gender or income level," said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). "This legislation will go a long way toward helping more women in New Jersey take charge of their health."
The bill would apply to non-pregnant persons with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The legislation comes after Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly has left funding for women's health care out of the state budget and vetoed Democratic efforts to restore the money. In the past, the funding has helped support life-saving services for women, including mammograms, Pap tests and sexually transmitted infection treatment and prevention.
"Access to health care sets the foundation for someone to excel in other areas of his or her life," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation will help ensure that women can take care of themselves and then focus on being good parents at home and good employees in the workplace."
"No woman should have to risk her very life by skipping a cancer screening or not being tested for an STI because the cost is a barrier," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "These funds will put quality health care within reach for more women."
"Essential services, such as mammograms, Pap tests and STI treatment have been inaccessible to many women for years," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Expanding Medicaid for women's health care should be a given and a priority in our state."
"Women are disproportionately affected by a number of health conditions, and for women who cannot afford to detect and treat them, those conditions essentially can be a death sentence," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "With this legislation, New Jersey can take action to save lives."
The measure was approved 52-24 by the Assembly.
The second bill (A-3492), sponsored by Vincent Mazzeo, Gabriela Mosquera, Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Patricia Egan Jones, Angelica Jimenez and Joann Downey, would provide $7,453,000 in supplemental funding for family planning services grants through the state Department of Health.
"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."
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, Gov. Christie routinely has eliminated $7.5 million for women's health care services in the state budget. Assembly Democrats repeatedly have 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 health care services for poor women and newborns," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester), vice-chair of the Assembly Women and Children Committee. "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."
"This is an investment in the very well-being of New Jersey's women and children," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington), chair of the Assembly Women and Children Committee. "It's high time this critical funding for women's health care is restored in the budget."
"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."
"New Jersey cannot continue to balance its budget on the backs of women," said Jones (D-Camden/Gloucester). "We need to restore these funds and get back to our priorities as a state."
"Women all across New Jersey need access to life-saving health care services," said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). "This legislation is about making sure they have that access."
"The easier it is for women who need health care to find it, the more likely it is that they will be able to stay in good health," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "That effectively reduces the burden on everyone else and benefits our entire state in the long run."
The sponsors noted that the funding has been prohibited from being used for abortion services, as is expressly stated in the legislation approved on Monday.
The measure was approved 51-25 by the Assembly.