NJ Budget 2022: Women’s health care to get funding boost

Gov. Phil Murphy expected to announce money to address maternal mortality, racial disparity in health care
Credit: (Pool photo: Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media)
File photo: Gov. Phil Murphy

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy plans to invest at least $50 million — much of it in new funding — on programs to help vulnerable women access reproductive health care, including contraception, delivery services and insurance coverage for up to a year after they give birth.

The proposals are included in Murphy’s state budget proposal for the coming year, administration officials said, and reflect his commitment to improve maternal mortality outcomes and reduce racial disparities in New Jersey, where Black women are more than four times as likely as white women to die as a result of childbirth. (New state data scheduled to be released soon suggests the disparity may now be almost 50% higher, according to the First Lady’s Office.)

Murphy is expected to unveil the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in July, during a speech scheduled for Tuesday. The state Legislature must approve a budget before July 1.

WATCH LIVE: NJ Spotlight News special coverage of Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget address 

Most of the maternal health proposals slated for new or additional funding were included in a strategic plan released in January by Nurture NJ, an advocacy coalition championed by First Lady Tammy Murphy.

These proposals include more than $15 million more than was spent this year to support contraceptive, prenatal and delivery services for individuals without access to health insurance; $8.5 million to extend certain Medicaid coverage for up to a year after delivery; and $2 million to create a rental-assistance program for vulnerable pregnant moms, according to administration officials who spoke on background with NJ Spotlight News in advance of the governor’s speech. Another $450,000 is proposed to create a registry for community doulas, carefully trained birth coaches that have proven to improve birth outcomes.

Emphasizing a previous pledge

Murphy plans to use parts of his budget speech to highlight how his spending plan supports New Jerseyans at every stage of life, including with investments in maternal and infant health that can reduce racial disparities, officials said. He will also reiterate his previous pledge to make New Jersey the safest place in the nation to deliver and raise a child, they said.

New Jersey generally spends more than $40 billion annually thanks to major revenue sources like the income, sales and corporate-business taxes. Murphy’s new budget comes at a time when the state’s tax-revenue outlook has brightened compared to just a few months ago, when the governor and lawmakers decided to hike several taxes and issue billions in new debt to offset what were then projected to be steep revenue losses triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The state could also be in line to receive another big infusion of federal relief thanks to a nearly $2 trillion aid bill that’s being discussed in Washington, D.C.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in New Jersey was announced nearly a year ago, nearly 770,000 cases have been diagnosed in the state and close to 23,000 people have died as a result.

The first half of the state’s upcoming fiscal year will overlap with Murphy’s bid for reelection, which will build as the November vote approaches. All 120 legislative seats are also on the ballot, and such years are traditionally a time for ramping up spending on state programs, as well as for easing back the tax burden, if possible.

Murphy has prioritized women’s health since the start of his first gubernatorial campaign in 2017 and enjoyed strong support from advocates like Planned Parenthood and their allies as a result. When he took office in January 2018, he quickly signed two related bills; one restored $7.45 million in what had traditionally been annual funding for family planning and other health services and the other expanded Medicaid coverage for contraception.

Cancer screenings, family planning

Funding for the women’s health initiative was increased the following year and had more than doubled by fiscal year 2020, when the state invested $19.5 million in the program. The money — which supplements federal dollars — is distributed through the nonprofit New Jersey Family Planning League to dozens of community clinics statewide, just over half of which are operated by Planned Parenthood. The money pays for cancer screenings, family planning services, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and more, but is prohibited by federal law from covering abortions.

Murphy is looking to again invest $19.5 million in this work during the coming fiscal year, officials said.

That expansion includes Murphy’s proposal to invest $19 million in reproductive health care, a more than $15 million increase over what was budgeted this year for what the state calls its “supplemental prenatal program.” The initiative pays clinics and hospitals for prenatal and delivery services for women who don’t qualify for Medicaid, including undocumented immigrants. Murphy will also seek to provide contraception through this program, something that is not currently included.

The governor also plans to propose a change — which would require federal approval — to the state’s Medicaid program to enable it to cover health care costs for certain women who would not otherwise qualify for the subsidized insurance, for up to a year after they give birth. He will call for setting aside $8.5 million for these extended postpartum services in the 2022 fiscal year, officials said.

New Jersey already expanded Medicaid to enable women who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty limit — an annual income of less than $25,800 for one person, or $44,000 for a family of three — to obtain limited coverage for family planning, prenatal and delivery services; last year, Murphy sought to extend this benefit to also cover up to six months of postpartum care. The new proposal would extend the mothers’ health insurance for 365 days after delivery.

New Jersey’s broader Medicaid program, or FamilyCare, is limited to adults who earn up to 138% of the federal level; children in families whose incomes are under 355% can also qualify.