Being There When A Child Gets Sick

Most parents know the uneasy feeling caused by their child crying out in the night, whether it’s from a bad dream, a moving shadow on a bedroom wall or something real like a fever or an upset stomach.

A good parent goes to the child’s bed, checks for emergencies, and then tries to soothe the child back to sleep with the assurance that everything is going to be all right.

But deep down, a parent just might be wondering what to do if everything isn’t all right. What if the cure takes a lot more than a trip to the local drug store for that dependable “pink medicine” antibiotic?

Some fortunate parents could drift back to sleep pretty easily by assuring themselves that at least they had health insurance and a prescription drug plan and that their kid will get the best possible treatment for whatever the ailment turns out to be.

But for way too many parents in New Jersey, the afterthoughts about what could happen when a child gets sick cause restless turns and cold sweats because they don’t have adequate health benefits where they work.

In fact, a recent study by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy found that the number of medically uninsured residents in New Jersey exceeds one million people, of whom about 240,000 are children.

Such predicaments force too many working people to gamble on the continued good health of their spouses, their children and themselves, or to live in denial as they trudge off from the house every day to support their families.

Meanwhile, large companies making hefty profits figured out a way to make even more money at the expense of taxpayers here in New Jersey and elsewhere by funneling their employees into state funded health insurance programs like FamilyCare.

Created as a safety net for the working poor whose income makes them ineligible for Medicaid, but whose modest earnings render them unable to afford health care on their own, FamilyCare listed about 160,000 enrollees last year including over 100,000 children. The state cost for the growing FamilyCare program now exceeds $175 million annually.

A New Jersey research group, New Jersey Policy Perspectives, recently revealed that seven large national chain store companies in the State had more than 2,350 workers – with thousands more of their family members – enrolled in FamilyCare.

The same group also reported that 51 employers in New Jersey were responsible for dumping more 100 workers each onto State insurance rolls, accounting for nearly 9,000 enrolled family members.

What’s especially galling about this to me is that hard-working taxpayers are being forced to subsidize the health benefits of workers whose bosses are piling up profits and using the rest of us to pay their bills.

That’s it for the bad news. The good news is – help is on the way in the form of legislation I am sponsoring with my colleagues, Senators Joe Vitale, Barbara Buono and Joe Coniglio, to require any private employer with at least a thousand employees to pay a health benefit rate to workers of something in the neighborhood of $3.50 an hour.

If a business fails to meet that investment in workers’ health care, the difference would have to be deposited in a State fund set up to help cover uninsured workers and to support efforts of small businesses who are trying to provide their workers with health benefits.

The driving forces behind the proposal are fairness and a sharing of the responsibilities. My Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee have held a hearing on the proposal and we’ll be working out details in the months ahead.

No one’s trying to drive businesses out of New Jersey, but it’s important that the playing field, or the working field, rather, be leveled so everyone can protect their families. The way the system has evolved up to this point is a disincentive for companies to provide their workers with health benefits.

It might be true that no one really appreciates health care until it’s needed. It’s also true that we have to take every possible step to make health care affordable by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse from the system.

I am confident that, with the right attitude, we can work out a good solution so everybody chips in a fair share. And then, when our kids cry out in the night and we tell them everything’s going to be all right, we can back it up.

Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland, represents the 3rd Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate. He is Chairman of the Senate Labor Committee.