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Vitale Bills To Increase Access And Enrollment In Health Care Programs Advance

TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale that will increase the number of New Jersey’s children and low-income adults enrolled in New Jersey FamilyCare and other safety net programs were approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“Providing access to decent, affordable health care is one of New Jersey’s most sacred obligations to its residents,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “At a time when families in the Garden State are struggling to make ends meet, we need to continue our progress to expand the accessibility of quality care to all New Jersey residents.”

The first bill (S-2751) would appropriate $6.4 million to the Department of Human Services to restore eligibility of adults with incomes between 134 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll and continue to be enrolled in the New Jersey FamilyCare program. By providing this state funding, New Jersey would be eligible to receive an additional $11.9 million in federal funds for the program.

In March 2010, Governor Christie froze enrollment in FamilyCare for adults above 133 percent of the federal poverty line. This freeze has resulted in a reduction of 19,200 adult participants in the NJ FamilyCare program.

NJ FamilyCare is a joint federal and state funded health insurance program created as an expansion of Medicaid to provide New Jersey’s uninsured children and certain low-income parents and guardians with affordable health coverage. FamilyCare is for families who do not have available or affordable employer insurance, and cannot afford to pay the high cost of private health insurance. As of October 2011, FamilyCare served 683,267 children and 242,624 adults in New Jersey.

“It is important that during this economic downturn, that we do not allow the government to balance the budget on the backs on New Jersey’s poor, particularly when such short-sighted cuts cost the state much needed federal dollars,” added Senator Vitale. “By reinstating funding for NJ FamilyCare and unfreezing enrollments for low-income adults, we are encouraging improved health care rather than the more expensive alternatives such as emergency room and charity care. This policy just makes economic sense.”

The second bill (S-2643) would appropriate $1 million to FamilyCare for enhanced outreach and an enrollment initiative intended to increase the number of children covered by Medicaid, NJ FamilyCare and NJ FamilyCare Advantage programs.

The funds would come from the $8.8 million dollar bonus New Jersey received from the federal government for signing up children who are eligible for health care assistance programs but had previously failed to be enrolled. New Jersey received this recognition in December 2010 due to the state’s efforts to expand FamilyCare enrollment for children. In recent years, New Jersey has expanded its outreach to eligible families, including automatic enrollment for families qualifying for reduced school lunch, and a simpler application process for eligible families.

It is estimated that more than 4.7 million children nationally qualify for health care assistance but are not enrolled. In New Jersey, more than 1 million people – including more than 300,000 children – are without health insurance. The Senator noted that the number of uninsured people may be even greater, as New Jerseyans deal with record-high unemployment and the effects of a soft economy.

“While we’ve made great strides in reaching FamilyCare-eligible families, we have to do a better job to ensure that everyone has access to health care,” said Senator Vitale. “In the 21st century United States, health care shouldn’t be a privilege for the economically well-off, but a fundamental right for all people. Hopefully, we can put federal assistance to good use enrolling more eligible people in state health care programs.”

Both bills passed the Senate Health Committee with votes of 7-0-2. They are now headed to the full Senate for consideration.

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