Op-ed: Women's Health Care Must Be A Critical, Bipartisan Priority

Courier Post
By Pamela Lampitt
July 17, 2010

Each day, New Jersey's women's health care clinics deliver critical health care services to the people of our state, people who in many cases cannot afford health insurance and have nowhere else to turn. The single mother who gets screened for breast cancer. The young pregnant woman who gets prenatal care for her baby. Countless young people who do the right thing by getting tested for HIV. The elderly woman who is checked for diabetes. There are many more.

Indeed, these clinics served more than 136,000 patients last year alone. Often, they delivered crucial preventive health care in the form of various tests and screenings that helped save lives.

Because of these important preventive health services, they also saved the state money. Last year, the savings totaled more than $150 million, over twenty times the $7.5 million investment the state made in these services.

Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Christie's budget eliminated this $7.5 million in funding, putting many working poor and middle class families in danger of losing critically needed health care. Under the governor's budget, many women who cannot afford to purchase basic health care will have no options. They may have to skip screenings for cervical cancer until it's too late. They may decide not to get their blood pressure checked, or miss out on neonatal care for their newborn infants. And they absolutely will be left to rely on the ER for even the most basic of treatments.

I think that puts New Jersey on the wrong track, and that is why I sponsored a bill (A-3019) to restore $7.5 million in badly needed women's health care funding.

By funding women's health care, New Jersey will save money. Women will use preventive services at clinics across the state instead of going to the emergency room and costing the state money in charity care. This bill would also require the state to apply for federal funding New Jersey currently leaves on the table. Under this federal funding, New Jersey would receive $9 for every $1 spent on women's health care services.

Even more notably, this legislation would not only restore these funds but it would do so in a way that is budget-neutral -- not adding a single dollar in state spending to the Governor's $29.4 billion budget.

Some charge that this essential women's health funding is nothing more than a ploy to fund abortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bill contains clear, explicit language requiring that none of this money be used to fund abortion procedures -- not one penny. The truth of this is borne out by the strongly bipartisan votes of both the Assembly and the Senate in favor of this bill. Those who assert otherwise have chosen to demagogue and distract, when we should be having a serious conversation about women's health.

This legislation now sits on the governor's desk, awaiting his action. I urge him to allow it to become law.

I do not believe, as some have asserted, that Christie's cuts to women's health derive from any mean-spirited attempt to harm women and families. In fact, the governor has spoken movingly of his own mother's battle with breast cancer and how early detection saved her life. That is the quintessential value of this funding -- the potentially life-saving preventive services used by more than 136,000 patients in 2009.

I implore the governor to give to countless New Jersey working poor and middle class families the same chance his family had by supporting these critical women's health care funds.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a Democrat from Cherry Hill, is a prime sponsor of the women's health care legislation (A-3019)

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