Christie's critics said the governor will make another financial sacrifice in exchange for political gain if he vetoes a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage to family-planning services for women who are not pregnant and who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The ACA funds this coverage with a 9-to-1 match of federal to state funds.
“To me, it is unfathomable that Christie continues to put his political ambitions above the fiscal health of the state, leaving millions of dollars of healthcare funds on the table,” wrote Sen. Linda Greenstein in a statement. “We should be using all the resources at our disposal not just for the fiscal health of our state, but the health and wellbeing of all New Jersey’s women.”
Christie’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.
The governor did, however, safeguard two funding increases to rape and domestic violence programs. He boosted the allocation to the state’s lead domestic violence agencies and the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women by $1.8 million and added $400,000 to the budgets of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault and 21 county-based sexual violence organizations. He also maintained $9.7 million for 51 Family Success Centers that offer domestic violence prevention programs, among other services.
The backing represents the Christie administration's continued concern with violence against women, as evidenced by the 2012 move of the Division on Women from the Department of Community Affairs to the Department of Children and Families. The Sexual Violence Primary Prevention and the Displaced Homemaker programs also moved, all with the purpose of making the DCF the primary agency for overseeing and administering antiviolence programs and, according to its website, to “better position the department to strengthen families and sharpen its focus on the occurrences of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.”
DCF oversees at least one lead domestic violence program -- equipped with a shelter and a 24-hour hotline -- in every county. There’s a state-wide hotline, as well. The DCF also administers free services to rape victims such as a hotline, crisis counseling, victim advocacy, follow-up support, and sensitivity training for professionals.
“I’ve been involved in the whole issue of domestic violence for more years than I care to remember, and yes, this increase is a good thing,” said Weinberg.
The health department does house an Office on Women that works with various organizations to promote outreach for women’s health and, according to its website, “increase service accessibility to health professionals and consumers in the state.” But it last issued its annual report almost a decade ago, and it lists areas of direct focus as cardiovascular disease, disability, sexual violence, bleeding disorders, and caregiving. A link to a purported list of all 21 county family-planning centers and information about other resources leads to some basic health information but no list and no additional resources.
The site does, however, provide detailed information about clinics that offer STD testing and treatment, along with a 24/7 hotline.
In signing the budget, Christie did generate a few news mentions for accepting an increase in funding for cancer research and for maintaining $12 million in state and federal dollars for The New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Program. CEED provides outreach, screening, and follow-up to uninsured and low-income patients who have breast and gynecological cancers, among others.
The Task Force on Cancer Prevention, Early Detection and Treatment in New Jersey reported to Gov. Christie in 2012 that while white women contract breast cancer more frequently than African-Americans, it is black women who suffer higher rates of mortality.
The task force noted that, “These differences may result from genetic factors or the disparity observable by race in healthcare prevention and treatment services, which is reflective of access-to-care, prevention, education, and early-detection issues in New Jersey. The latter probable causes should be the focus of our efforts over the next several years.”
But with the closure and consolidation of women’s health clinics, can women access the screening and information they need?
Remsen says no. “Most of our services are about prevention and wellness. And now there are those 35,000 people we’re not able to serve,” he said.
In Atlantic County, the cuts kept Planned Parenthood from implementing colposcopies for women who have received abnormal pap-smear results.
“Restoring funding remains our top priority,” said Remsen. “Meantime, we’re going to continue to fight for the people we serve and those we could serve and those we’re no longer serving.”