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Vitale-Buono Family Care Bill Receives Key Budget Committee Approval, Emergency Approval In State Senate

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Barbara Buono which would overhaul the State’s FamilyCare health insurance program for the working poor was given unanimous approval by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and received an emergency vote and approval in the State Senate by a vote of 38-0.

“There’s an old saying that a society is judged by how we treat our most vulnerable members, and in New Jersey, we will now do better,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “New Jersey FamilyCare was a revolutionary program when it was first-adopted by the State, but recent cuts due to budget shortfalls have hurt the effectiveness of the program, and forced the State to scale back coverage. A redesigned FamilyCare program to provide access to quality health care for all of our least fortunate residents will put New Jersey back on the map in terms of meeting our obligation to help the working poor.”

“It has become clear that health care is a basic need along the lines of food, clothing and a quality education,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “With this bill, we will ensure that every child living in New Jersey has access to this basic need. New Jersey should be proud to join Vermont as one of the only two states that can make this claim.”

The bill, S-2236, known as the “Family Health Care Coverage Act,” would restructure New Jersey’s current FamilyCare and KidCare programs into a revamped FamilyCare system within the State Department of Human Services. The new program would provide subsidized health insurance coverage for children under 19 years of age, as well as their parents and childless adults on an incremental basis. The bill also expands the eligibility for the State’s Medicaid program to provide for greater coverage of State residents with matching federal funds.

“When the State removed coverage provisions for parents, we realized a decline in enrollment among eligible children in FamilyCare,” said Senator Vitale. “Offering a comprehensive health insurance coverage program, which recognizes the health needs of the family as a whole, would hopefully make the program a more attractive option for potential enrollees. By putting the family back into FamilyCare, we are sure to achieve success.”

The bill also establishes for a streamlined enrollment process for the FamilyCare and Medicaid programs, including online enrollment, and provides for a buy-in process for families over the income threshold. The sponsors noted that increasing enrollment in these health insurance programs for the working poor would put an emphasis on preventive care, such as regular doctor checkups, over episodic care, such as emergency room visits, which, along with the obvious health benefits of preventive care, would help to stabilize costs in other State health compensation programs.

“FamilyCare will provide New Jersey’s working poor with the access they need to preventive care, so they no longer need to rely on emergency room visits as their primary means of treatment,” said Senator Buono. “New Jersey currently covers emergency room visits for the uninsured through the charity care compensation system; however, with charity care costs ballooning in recent years, we need to do everything in our power to provide working families with the means to address their health care needs, before it gets to the point where an emergency room visit is needed. The investments we place into FamilyCare will pay off for the taxpayers of New Jersey not just through additional federal funds, but through reduced costs in other State programs.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration. An identical bill, A-3724, is pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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