Health care providers worry about the roughly 100,000 patients in New Jersey who rely on family planning centers like Planned Parenthood for vital services including birth control, counseling and STD testing.
It’s currently paid for by federal Title X funding, but a new “gag rule” imposed by the Trump administration would bar any group that accepts Title X money from even discussing abortion. It’s that, or forfeit federal funding, which totaled $8.8 million this year in New Jersey. Consequences could be harsh.
“Patients who can’t afford the testing or the services that Title X provides for will now have decisions, very real decisions, to make about how to get the testing, whether that’s going to blow the budget for this month. And we don’t want patients making decisions between food on the table and care,” said Jayci Knights, chief medical officer at CAMcare Health Corporation.
The nonprofit Family Planning League is New Jersey’s Title X grantee. That means it distributes the federal funding to ten agencies that operate about 50 health centers statewide.
The league sounds likely to refuse Title X money. It’s talking to providers and stated it, “[…] intends to maintain uninterrupted access to high-quality family planning services – and we will do so by providing funding support to our sub-recipient agencies for as long as we can without compromising our program’s comprehensive patient-centered family planning services […]”
But if their money runs out?
“The impact for women in New Jersey is going to be extreme,” said Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.
That’s why she believes the state of New Jersey should pick up the tab while agencies litigate in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the gag rule.
“It would be unfortunate if we had to dip into our coffers but this is essential care. This is preventive care. And when you look at the return on investment in this type of care, this is some of the most important care that there is out there,” said Schwimmer.
The Governor’s Office noted its current budget already provides more than $10 million for family planning services and added, “We would have to discuss additional appropriations with our partners in the Legislature.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean said he would not be willing to spend more money. Sen. Loretta Weinberg replied, “I would certainly be willing to have a discussion about this with both family planning advocates and the governor’s office.”
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central and Southern New Jersey, which serves 70,000 patients, is already digging into emergency reserves in lieu of Title X funding.
“Right now, we’re relying on these limited funds, but we’re really in a period of limbo,” said Planned Parenthood communications director Casey Olesko. “But here in New Jersey nothing has changed for our patients and we want to make sure that that message absolutely gets across. Patients can still come to our 22 health centers.”
Other states are grappling with the issue. Maine, Illinois, and possibly NYC have decided to forego Title X funding rather than abide by the gag rule. It’s unclear how long Jersey agencies could afford to fund services without Title X or additional state aid.
The Health and Human Services deadline for abiding by the gag rule is Sept. 18.