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Vitale-Rice Bill To Expand Children’s Catastrophic Illness Safety Net Approved In Committee

Governor Jon Corzine, Senator Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) at the bill signing ceremony

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Ronald L. Rice which would provide additional revenue to the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today by a vote of 8-0.

“Since the program began, the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund has been a popular State-run tool to help families struggling to meet high health care costs for sick kids,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chair of the Senate Health Committee. “Often, families face a number of additional costs which, while not covered by health insurance or other State or federal assistance programs, are vital to ensuring recovery. The Catastrophic Illness Relief Fund provides the resources to offset some of the incidental, uncovered expenses of medical care and help families meet their health care needs.”

“The Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund is one of the success stories in New Jersey’s health care safety net,” said Senator Rice, a member of the Senate Health panel. “Over the last twenty years, we’ve seen a steady increase in the use of the Fund, because we’ve been able to get the word out to families who need the assistance. However, unless we find additional revenue for the Fund, the program will be unable to continue providing help to families struggling with soaring health care costs.”

The bill, S-2633, as amended, would provide additional revenues to the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund by increasing the annual surcharge from $1.00 to $1.50 per employee for all employers covered under the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law. The current $1.00 surcharge was established in 1987 as a revenue mechanism for the Relief Fund, and is collected by the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development before being deposited into the Fund.

Under current statute, a “catastrophic illness” is defined as an illness in which uncovered expenses incurred in the care of a child exceed 10 percent of the first $100,000 of annual family income, plus 15 percent of any excess income over $100,000. The Fund is administered by the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund Commission, and can provide financial assistance for a number of medical costs, including: specialty transportation, health insurance premiums, uncovered pharmaceutical costs, specialized pediatric ambulatory care, home modification, home health care, specialty hospital services, or experimental treatments.

“Most mothers and fathers wouldn’t think twice to provide their kids with the medical care they need to recover from serious illness,” said Senator Rice. “However, as medical bills pile up, families are often pushed to the point of bankruptcy in order to take care of their kids’ health care needs. The Catastrophic Illness Relief Fund has helped so many families get through tough economic times, and we need to continue supporting this worthwhile program.”

“For a minimal cost to employers, we can expand a health care safety net program which is there for all of the State’s families in their time of need,” said Senator Vitale. “So many New Jersey families are having a tough enough time meeting the cost of living in the Garden State, without being pounded by expensive medical treatments for a seriously ill child. The Catastrophic Illness Relief Fund is making a difference in the lives of many New Jersey families, and with additional funding, we can continue the Fund’s mission well into the future.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.

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