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Vitale-Buono Familycare Bill One Step From Becoming Law

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 approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 77-3, receiving final legislative approval.

“New Jersey’s children, regardless of their economic background, deserve a chance at a healthy life, and the FamilyCare program will now be better-suited to providing the means to help those who could otherwise not afford quality health care,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “With renewed purpose and reenergized goals, FamilyCare will put us closer than ever before to realizing that health care is not a luxury — it’s a basic human right, to which every single person in New Jersey and elsewhere is entitled. The new FamilyCare will put health care in reach for thousands of people who would otherwise simply do without.”

“As the saying goes, prevention is the best medicine and by covering more of New Jersey’s working families, we are providing them with the type of preventive care they don’t have access to,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Currently, the State covers costly emergency room visits for the uninsured through charity care to hospitals; however, this bill allows us to get more people to the doctor before an illness becomes severe, improving the overall health of New Jerseyans and reducing health care costs for the State. The investments we make today into FamilyCare will pay off for the taxpayers of New Jersey for years to come.”

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.

“Originally, FamilyCare provided coverage for people across the age spectrum, but due to pressure put on by recent State budget shortfalls, the State scaled back the program to only cover children,” said Senator Vitale. “In hindsight, we now know that was a mistake, because children tend to enroll at greater rates when their parents enroll with them. To reach the children of the State, we obviously need a comprehensive health care plan for the working poor, and New Jersey’s new FamilyCare program will be just that.”

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.

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law. It was approved by the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 38-0.

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