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Vitale Bill To Protect Familycare Income Standards Advances In Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would revisit unfair income practices which deny individuals access to the New Jersey FamilyCare program, a safety net program which provides health care access for uninsured New Jerseyans, was approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“NJ FamilyCare provides necessary health benefits to uninsured New Jerseyans,” said Senator Vitale, (D-Middlesex) Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “When Governor Christie froze enrollment of new parents in New Jersey FamilyCare it was implanted in such a way that I do not believe he intended. The net impact is that people who experience financial hardships – such as losing their job or becoming disabled – end up losing their health coverage. By restricting access to this program, we’re putting people in jeopardy, and sending a message that access to quality health care isn’t a priority for the State of New Jersey.”

The bill (S-1758) would revisit how they implemented the freeze for new parents by the State Department of Human Services (DHS) on March 1, 2010 which limited the eligibility of parents and caregivers to be covered by the NJ FamilyCare program. Under the DHS rules, parents or caregivers no longer able to renew health coverage under NJ FamilyCare if their “unearned” income – typically identified as unemployment insurance, child support payments, and other government benefits, including social security death or disability benefits – exceeds 30 percent of the federal poverty level, or $6,915 a year for a family of four, even if their gross family income otherwise falls below the income threshold to renew their coverage in the program.

Under new income eligibility rules adopted by DHS, parents/guardians would still be covered by FamilyCare if they were already enrolled in the program and their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $46,100 a year for a family of four. New enrollees would have to earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or $30,656 a year for a family of four, to be eligible for parent/guardian coverage under FamilyCare. Senator Vitale’s bill would not change the existing income eligibility standards, but would remove the “unearned” income calculation, ensuring that all income, for the purposes of FamilyCare eligibility, is treated equally.

Senator Vitale’s bill would also require DHS to re-enroll any parent or caregiver who was disenrolled from the program as a result of the “unearned” income calculation.

“The ‘unearned’ income calculations imposed by DHS regulations seems counterintuitive. Because they only affect families who are receiving some form of government assistance, they often impose an additional hurdle for families which may be dealing with a personal crisis or some other economic hardship – the same type of people that the program is designed to benefit,” said Senator Vitale. “It’s unfair to say that a widow can no longer qualify for FamilyCare coverage because she receives a social security death benefit, or that a single mother can’t qualify because she just lost her job and is on unemployment. This bill would fix what I hope was a mistake.

The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 8-0-1. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration, before going to the full Senate for review.

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