TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would reverse 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 Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“NJ FamilyCare provides necessary health benefits to uninsured New Jerseyans,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “When Governor Christie froze enrollment of new parents to New Jersey FamilyCare it was done 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 prohibit the Department of Human Services from establishing limits on the amount of unearned income – such as unemployment insurance, social security benefits or child support payments – that a parent or caregiver may receive and remain eligible, so long as the total income, both earned and unearned, is within the income eligibility limits of the FamilyCare program.
On March, 1, 2010, DHS prohibited new applicants from enrolling in FamilyCare; however, those individuals who were enrolled prior to this date were grandfathered into the program. According to the Senator, at the same time, DHS implemented the Medicaid unearned income threshold to the FamilyCare Program, which requires that no matter what the parent or caregiver’s overall income is, any source of unearned income cannot exceed more than 30 percent of the federal poverty line. This means that no more than $6,915 for a family of four’s annual income may come from any source of unearned income. Additionally on March 1, 2010, the income eligibility requirements for NJ FamilyCare were changed from 200 percent of the federal poverty level – or $46,100 for a family of four – to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – or $31,963 for a family of four.
Prior to these changes, a family who was enrolled in Medicaid and had a change of circumstances where they received more than 30 percent of their income from any source of unearned income could seamlessly transition into the FamilyCare program. After the implementation of these changes, not only were they prohibited by the addition of the 30 percent unearned income cap in FamilyCare, but they were considered new applicants in the program and prohibited to reenroll due to the enrollment freeze.
Senator Vitale’s bill would also require DHS to reenroll 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 seem 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 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.