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Senators Vitale, Gill & Weinberg Introduce Bill To Expand Medicaid

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

TRENTON – Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Nia H. Gill, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg today introduced legislation that would provide Medicaid health insurance to hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents.

During his annual Budget Address, Governor Christie expressed plans to participate in the federal Medicaid Expansion Program. This bill would establish the statutory framework to make the expansion possible.

“We have a moral obligation to care for all of our citizens no matter their income and with this legislation we are moving towards fulfilling that responsibility,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “It will save lives, improve the health and well being of many of the uninsured and provide immediate and long-term savings to hospitals and to the state.”

The bill would expand Medicaid income eligibility for non-elderly adult residents of New Jersey to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, authorized under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA stipulates that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of costs associated with expanding Medicaid for the first three years. In later years, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs.

“Participating in the federal Medicaid Expansion Program is a win-win for the residents of New Jersey. Not only will it provide vital health coverage for hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable residents, it will also save the state billion of dollars long-term,” said Senator Gill, D-Essex/Passaic. “With expanded Medicaid, New Jersey will continue to be a national leader ensuring its residents have access to quality and affordable health coverage.”

Medicaid expansion could bring up to $22 billion in federal funds over eight years, provide coverage to at least 234,000 of the uninsured and reduce by more than $300 million the state expenditure for uncompensated hospital care, according to numerous studies by health care and public policy organizations. Hospitals could realize additional savings through reduced charity care that isn’t reimbursed by the state.

“With recent cuts to NJ FamilyCare eligibility, many of the state’s most vulnerable residents – such as women – were left to fend for themselves in terms of health coverage,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “By joining the federal Medicaid expansion program, we can begin to close the disparate gap to make sure that all New Jerseyans, no matter their financial situation, have access to health care.”

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Medicaid expansion saved lives and improved the health of newly-covered residents of states that expanded Medicaid.

The health reform law increases Medicaid eligibility to as much as 138 percent of the federal poverty level, extending coverage to more than 15 million people nationwide, including at least 234,000 in New Jersey, according to a study by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. Most are childless adults – who constitute the largest segment of New Jersey residents who lack health insurance – who currently aren’t eligible in New Jersey.

The state spent $675 million this year to partially compensate hospitals for unpaid bills, mostly for treating patients without insurance. This annual expense could be slashed in half, according to an analysis by New Jersey Policy Perspective, once Medicaid is expanded.

The bill has been referenced to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.