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Vitale Commends State Efforts To Reach Out To Families Of Uninsured Kids

Outreach Will Help to Get Uninsured Children Enrolled in Family Care Program

TRENTON – Senator Joseph F. Vitale, a long-time advocate on behalf of the uninsured and author of the New Jersey Family Care program to provide health care coverage for uninsured individuals, said today that the State Department of Human Services’ outreach efforts to connect with the families of uninsured kids is a needed and welcome step to maximize participation in the program.

“For far too long, we knew that there were many uninsured children in New Jersey who could benefit from the Family Care program if we only made it easier for their parents to enroll them,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “By reaching out through income tax returns to identify kids who lack health insurance, and following up with a simplified express enrollment form, we can make sure these kids have access to quality primary care. This effort will maximize enrollment in Family Care by kids who need our help the most, and I commend the Department of Human Services for overseeing this massive outreach campaign.”

The latest effort to identify and connect with families eligible for Family Care benefits was first authorized through legislation Senator Vitale advanced last year to expand the program. Through the legislation, a check-off was added to the State income tax form to allow tax filers to indicate whether or not they had any uninsured dependents living in their homes. The Division of Taxation then forwards that information to the Department of Human Services, and if tax filers checked the box to indicate an uninsured dependent on their 2008 income tax return, they will receive a Family Care Express Lane application in the mail. Assuming their income level this year remains the same, they would be able to enroll their children in the New Jersey Family Care program with only a signature; if their tax situation has changed, they would have to fill out the basic one-page Family Care application, which would be sent to them in a follow-up mailing.

“Before last year’s legislation, any information collected on income tax returns was completely off-limits to other State departments, even if it could benefit the families filing their taxes,” said Senator Vitale. “Through the bill, we were able to maintain the confidentiality of tax information, but also identify families who need a helping hand when it comes to health insurance. This outreach effort represents government agencies working together to give people the help they need.”

Senator Vitale noted that the early statistics from the income tax check-off appear to be promising, but the actual impact of the outreach campaign won’t be fully known until applications are processed, and false eligible applicants are weeded out. Senator Vitale said that as of May 1, approximately 460,000 New Jersey uninsured children were identified in around 280,000 households around the State. Of those 280,000 households, approximately 115,000 filed for an Earned Income Tax Credit, making them easily eligible for Family Care benefits.

Senator Vitale said the first mailing of Family Care Express Lane applications is in the mail, and will be delivered to around 54,000 households in Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex and Essex counties. Based on the returns received from the initial mailing, Department of Human Services officials will be better able to predict the success of the entire outreach campaign.

“This first round of applications will give us a better idea of just how many kids are out there that really need Family Care assistance, as opposed to those whose health insurance status has changed, or who are ineligible for the program,” said Senator Vitale, who noted that a test-mailing went out to 11,000 households in May to work the kinks out of the express enrollment system. “We want to make sure we connect with the greatest number of uninsured children as possible, to ensure that we are getting these kids the right kind of care at an affordable price. Access to quality health care shouldn’t be a luxury reserved only for the rich, and we must do everything we can to expand safety net programs designed to get kids the care they need.”