BY TOM HESTER SR.
Legislation to restore $7.5 million in state funds to pay for women’s health care and family planning programs was reintroduced in the state Senate Thursday despite two earlier vetoes of the bill by Gov. Christie Christie and his ongoing disapproval of it.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he will call for a vote on the bill by the Democratic-controlled upper house on Monday. Republican legislators support the governor's opposition to restoring the money.
Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary, said of the Democrats' action, "It’s predictable that the majority party in the Legislature, led by Senator Sweeney, can’t resist the urge to open the public’s wallet as soon as a few extra dollars become available. We cannot throw out the sensible budgeting practices we’ve put in place just because of a modest increase in tax revenue."
Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) chairwoman of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and a leading voice in the Legislature to reinstate the money in the 2011-12 state budget, reintroduced the proposal.
“Since last year, every time we’ve brought up the issue of funding for women’s health care, we were told that the money wasn’t there,” Weinberg said. “Of course, we’ve since learned that the money was always there, and that accounts we identified to fund these programs during last year’s budget deliberations are running a surplus this year which would have more than paid for the governor’s cuts. With more than $900 million coming into the state through increased income tax collections (the administration says $515 million), there’s no excuse – short of conservative political ideology – not to fund women’s health care and family planning now.”
Weinberg said the legislation would also direct the state to apply for matching federal funds for Medicaid-eligible women served by the affected health care facilities -- a move she maintained which would bring in $9 for every $1 spent on care at the state level.
The senator said that under federal and state law, the money could not be used to finance abortion procedures.
“These funds are used to increase access for breast cancer screening and gynecological exams, HIV testing and STD testing and treatment, blood pressure screening, pre- and post-natal care, and yes, access to family planning resources and contraception,” Weinberg said. “These are basic health services which are either hard to come by, or completely unavailable and inaccessible anywhere else in the state for economically-disadvantaged women. It’s time to stand up for our priorities and make sure women in need are able to access the services they need to stay healthy.”
Weinberg said that funding women’s health and family planning in New Jersey also makes economic sense. She said that investing in these programs – and applying for federal matching funds – could save New Jersey more than $40 million a year in health care costs elsewhere in the system. She added that in one year of defunding, nearly 40,000 women were turned away at women’s healthcare facilities due to the lack of resources to provide care, and that six facilities have shut their doors forever.
“We’ve essentially set up a health care crisis for women in New Jersey who cannot afford the high cost of health insurance,” Weinberg said. “Women’s health clinics and family planning centers have fulfilled a real need for access to care, and cuts in State and federal funding make access to care more and more difficult for uninsured women. The governor has said all along that his decision to defund women’s health in New Jersey was dictated by budgetary realities – it’s time for him to put our money where his mouth is, and work with us to make an economically-smart, socially-conscientious investment in women’s healthcare moving forward.”
In announcing the Monday vote on Weinberg’s bill, Sweeney said, “Last year the governor told us there was no funding available for women’s healthcare in the budget. We knew then as we know now, it was a false claim used to mask right-wing ideology. But now we have a chance to do the right thing. With both the administration and the Office of Legislative Services acknowledging increases in revenues of several hundred million dollars, there is simply no reason why $7.5 million of that funding can’t be used to close this gaping hole in women’s healthcare.
“The Senate will vote on this issue Monday -- the health and well-being of women throughout New Jersey is simply too important to put off for another day,’ Sweeney said. “I hope my colleagues across the aisle who voted for this funding last year before the governor told them they had to be against it will finally find the backbone and the voice to tell King Christie that his veto was the absolute wrong thing to do.”