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Vitale: Christie Health Care Fiscal Strategy Favors Top-Earning Public Employees Over Low-Wage Earners, Familycare Recipients

Says Shift in Health Care Cost is Regressive, Cites Governor’s Supporting Documents

TRENTON – Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, the leading advocate in the Legislature for the FamilyCare program to provide access to primary health care coverage for New Jersey’s uninsured population, issued the following statement questioning a change to the public employee contributions for State health benefits:

“The supporting literature for the Governor’s budget cuts, unveiled yesterday, calls into question his commitment to protecting New Jerseyans in greatest need.

“In supplemental documentation regarding changes to the State’s interdepartmental accounts, the Governor has implemented – through executive order – an increase in the health benefits contributions for non-union employees. He’s also changed the contribution calculation, from 1.5 % of base salary to 25% of medical and prescription drug premiums.

“According to the Governor’s own documentation: ‘This change would be most advantageous for employees that have a higher salary.’

“The Governor is essentially committing to a change which will mean a less painful increase in health care costs for top-earning Administration employees, and a much greater burden on lower-wage earners in the public sector.

“At the same time, the Governor has frozen enrollment in New Jersey FamilyCare for parents in greatest need of life-sustaining health care, and has outright cancelled health insurance coverage for nearly 12,000 additional low-income parents.

“There’s no question that public employees need to contribute more for the generous health care benefits they receive. However, the solution being proposed is regressive and has the potential to shield high-earning Administration officials, including the Governor himself and his cabinet advisors from the bulk of the pain, while imposing significant financial stress on low-wage public employees and the uninsured.

“I’m going to ask the Office of Legislative Services to prepare estimates for cost savings based on an increase in the contribution rate as a calculation of base-salary. Simply put, a flat rate on all employees for health care, regardless of their ability to pay, is unfair and regressive. We can yield the same – if not greater – cost savings, by implementing a contribution formula that accounts for employees’ ability to pay.

“We may also be able to dedicate a portion of the savings achieved through this approach to preserve FamilyCare benefits for those in greatest need.

“Obviously, we need change in New Jersey in order to create a more sustainable and more equitable system of providing for the health care needs of public employees and families who depend on the State’s safety net programs for the uninsured. However, change that reflects the ‘most advantageous’ route for high-wage public employees – including top Administration officials – is not what the people voted for in November.”