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By Bill Wichert November 7, 2011

Olympic medalist Carl Lewis calls out state senator for taking away health care from residents

A prolonged legal battle kicked him off the ballot in Tuesday’s election, but former Democratic State Senate candidate Carl Lewis has taken aim at a Republican incumbent who "took" away health care from the public.

At a recent appearance in Willingboro, Burlington County, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist accused state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) of receiving taxpayer-funded health care, but stripping away coverage from her constituents. Allen is seeking reelection Tuesday against Democratic challenger Gail Cook.

"Your senator right now is dancing across the stage, just had...a cancer scare and you know what, guess what? Every single person in this room is paying for her health care. Did you know that? But she took yours," Lewis told the crowd.

Soon afterwards, Lewis added: "So you’re paying for…her health care, and she took yours away."

PolitiFact New Jersey found that Lewis is exaggerating Allen’s impact on health care in Burlington County.

Allen does receive state health benefits and, in July, she abstained from restoring $7.5 million in state funding for family planning services. But that cut only impacted a limited number of Burlington County residents and, across the state, many affected New Jerseyans have been able to receive services from other health centers.

Lewis spokesman Chris Walker confirmed the claim was in reference to the $7.5 million, and said Lewis would speak to us. But we never heard back.

First, let’s explain Allen’s health care coverage.

Allen is receiving health coverage for herself and her husband through the State Health Benefits Program, according to Bill Quinn, a state Treasury Department spokesman. Still, like other state employees, Allen must pay a percentage of her premium costs.

Now, let’s talk about whether Allen "took" away health care from Burlington County residents.

Nearly a year after Gov. Chris Christie eliminated $7.5 million for family planning services, the Democrat-controlled Legislature tried this past summer to restore the funding. Christie vetoed that spending, and the Democrats failed in July to get enough votes to override his veto.

Allen abstained from that vote -- counting her as a no -- but even if she voted yes, the Senate still would have been one vote shy of restoring the funding.

The funding cut made last year led to the closure of six of the state’s family planning centers, including two clinics in Burlington County.

But according to county spokesman Ralph Shrom, those two locations served a combined total of about 1,500 patients in 2010. That’s less than 5 percent of the population of Willingboro, where Lewis made his remarks.

The patients formerly served at those clinics are referred to two federally qualified health centers in the county, Shrom said in an email. Shrom said: "Those close to this situation would say it did leave people without care, and there are probably individuals who did not follow up on the referral or may have found the alternatives inconvenient."

Shrom added, "On the other side of the equation, those who did follow the referral advice now have a ‘medical home’ -- that is, they are now going to a clinic that can attend to all the health care needs of themselves and their families and seeing a doctor who can keep continuing records."

Katherine Grant-Davis, president and CEO of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, which represents the federally qualified centers, said that in many cases across the state, former family planning patients have turned to the federally qualified centers.

"We are the safety net," Grant-Davis told us.

Allen said she would have liked the $7.5 million to remain in the state budget, but she abstained from the override vote because the state couldn’t afford it. The senator noted how she has been honored by different health organizations.

"I’ve worked very hard on making sure health care’s available for everybody," Allen said.

Our ruling

At a recent rally in Willingboro, Lewis accused Allen of receiving taxpayer-funded health care, while taking health care away from the public. Allen receives state health benefits, and she must contribute toward her premium costs.

But Lewis’ larger claim about her taking away health care is off base. The governor eliminated the funding for family planning services and a yes-vote from Allen wouldn’t have changed that.

Also, the funding cut has affected a fraction of her constituents and similar services are being offered at other health centers. We rate the statement Mostly False.

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Our Sources

YouTube video of Carl Lewis addressing crowd in Willingboro, Oct. 30, 2011

PolitiFact New Jersey, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg says six of New Jersey’s 58 family planning centers closed because of budget cuts, June 10, 2011

Phone and email interviews with Bill Quinn, New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Nov. 2-3, 2011

The Star-Ledger, N.J. state Sen. Diane Allen is diagnosed with aggressive form of cancer, Nov. 9, 2009

The Star-Ledger, Back from surgery for oral cancer, Diane Allen still has a lot to say, Aug. 17, 2010

Burlington County Health Department, 2010 Annual Report, accessed Nov. 2, 2011

Phone interview and emails sent to Chris Walker, an aide to Carl Lewis, Nov. 3-4, 2011

Interview with Katherine Grant-Davis, New Jersey Primary Care Association, Nov. 3, 2011

The Star-Ledger, When Gov. Christie gives marching orders, few GOP legislators step out of line, Aug. 21, 2011

Interview with Sen. Diane Allen, Nov. 3, 2011

Phone and email interviews with Ralph Shrom, Burlington County spokesman, Nov. 2-3, 2011

Email interview with Dawn Thomas, New Jersey Department of Health, Nov. 3, 2011

Willingboro municipal website, Township Profile, accessed Nov. 4, 2011

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Olympic medalist Carl Lewis calls out state senator for taking away health care from residents

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