When Gov. Chris Christie took office, he cut $7.5 million in funding for family planning centers. As a result, women’s health clinics lost another $60 million in federal matching funds and 58 clinics closed. The Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Linda Greenstein said at the Senate budget hearing that New Jersey’s remaining clinics are serving 33,000 fewer patients and potentially leaving some people without access to care. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams about the difference in care and how the Affordable Care Act could be a good for affected women.
Greenstein said difference in care between family planning centers and federally qualified health centers was at the crux of the disagreement at the hearing.
“From what I can see, and from what I know, the FQHC or the federally qualified clinics are really in a sense primary care clinics for the working poor, the poorer folks who use them. They’re federally funded, extremely useful and important. The Planned Parenthood and other kinds of family planning clinics are primarily for reproductive health care,” she said. “But for many women they were the only form of primary care that they had. They were very accessible and there were many of them. Now the number that closed, out of about 58 or so, six closed. Some of them were Planned Parenthood, some weren’t, but the important thing is 33,000 fewer women were able to access the reproductive health care services so that’s critical.”
When asked if the women who previously went to family planning centers continue to receive reproductive health care elsewhere, she said she doesn’t believe that answer is known.
“The health commissioner and others have tried to say, ‘Oh all of the women transitioned over and more people are using the FQHCs than ever before.’ Well it may be true that more women are using the FQHCs but we really don’t know if those are the same women who lost the family planning services. Those were important not as just reproductive health services, but also as the only form of primary care that these people had,” Greenstein said.
She also says the Affordable Care Act will greatly help those who were affected once again have access to reproductive health care.
“I can only say thank god for that act because with the expansion of Medicaid and as we come to the Affordable Care Act more people will have have opportunity to access services. I would say that because of the Affordable Health Care Act, it will be more possible for these women who lost the reproductive services to find services elsewhere,” Greenstein explained.
There are 33,000 fewer patients being served, but Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd says the number of women served by FQHCs has actually increased by 25 percent. Is that an improvement? Greenstein says possibly, but there’s no way of knowing if those are the same women.
“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that we’re talking about the same people so I have to believe that a relatively large number of the original women from the family planning centers just aren’t getting the health care that they were getting before. I think with the Affordable Care Act there’s more opportunity for them to get these services,” she said.
She hopes that funding for family planning will one day be restored.
“Gov. Christie has made it very clear: first he said he didn’t want to do it because he said we couldn’t afford to, even though it’s a relatively small amount of money. He’s recently admitted at political functions that he didn’t fund them because they were Planned Parenthood and in his mind they stood for abortion even though these funds could not be used for abortion,” Greenstein said. “So he admitted that he did it for political reasons — which we always knew he did. There was no surprise there, but now we’re in a situation where those clinics aren’t open. I’m hoping that in the future more will reopen and there’ll be more opportunities to get this very important care.”
This morning’s budget committee also heard from the Department of Environmental Protection. When asked if anything about the Exxon deal come out during today’s hearing, Greenstein said she and Sen. Peter Barnes tried asking the commissioner questions but they didn’t receive many answers.
“The commissioner said he did not want to talk about it because it was in the nature of pending litigation and he was concerned pending future litigation. He didn’t want to take any chances so he just stopped answering questions about it. I would say nothing really came out,” she said. “We did ask some pretty pointed questions about it to get an understanding. For example, what’s the effect on our natural environment, what is actually included in the natural resources reduction in a sense that we’re not funding the cleanup for the natural resources problems? He did not enumerate what those were and what the problems are. We tried to get that information and we were not able to at this hearing.”