Weinberg-Vitale Bill To Strengthen NJ Public Health Council Approved In Senate

Measure Would Ensure Broader Representation, Direct Council to Identify Health Funding Available to the State

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairwoman Loretta Weinberg and Committee Vice Chair Joseph F. Vitale which would strengthen the role and membership of the New Jersey Public Health Council was approved today by the Senate by a vote of 29-10.

“Considering that New Jersey’s public health dollars are stretched to the absolute limit, we need a public agency with broad representation of all facets of the health care industry to seek out funding wherever it may exist,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Under this bill, the Public Health Council will not only serve to advise State policy and regulation-makers about the science of health care, but will also be called upon to identify untapped federal and private funding sources for which the State can apply. It would make the Public Health Council relevant to the needs and demands of a 21st Century public health care system.”

“Since it was scaled back in 2005, the Public Health Council has acted on the periphery of New Jersey’s public health programs, providing limited advice on the direction of health policy in the State,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Through this bill, we wanted to empower the agency to once again make important policy and funding recommendations to make sure that we take the politics out of health care and apply for all the funds for which New Jersey qualifies. At a time when the health care picture nationally is in a state of flux, we absolutely need the Public Health Council to make sure New Jersey’s health programs are meeting the shifting health care needs of our people.”

The bill, S-2659, would revise the Public Health Council’s membership, and restore the functions, powers and duties of the Council. Under the bill, the Council’s membership would be amended in order to better reflect a broader representation of public health interests. Specifically, the revised Council would include:

• a dentist licensed to practice in New Jersey, appointed by the Governor;

• a person who is knowledgeable by way of education or professional experience in health-related aspects of terrorism, appointed by the Governor;

• a dean of a school of public health, or a regionally accredited institution of higher education in New Jersey, appointed by the Governor;

• a health insurance carrier licensed to do business in New Jersey; appointed by the Governor;

• a physician who specializes in infections disease, appointed by the Senate President;

• a State-licensed public health officer, appointed by the Senate President;

• someone who represents a philanthropic foundation that funds research on public health issues, appointed by the Senate President;

• a licensed pediatrician, appointed by the Assembly Speaker;

• a person with a demonstrated expertise in maternal and child health, appointed by the Assembly Speaker; and

• a licensed health care professional with a demonstrated knowledge and interest in public health, appointed by the Assembly Speaker.

Under the bill, each member would serve for a term of four years, as opposed to the seven-year terms prescribed for under current law. The members of the Public Health Council serving on the effective date of the bill would continue to serve until the expiration of their respective terms.

“Under the terms of the current law, many of these specialized areas of health care have little to no representation on the Public Health Council,” said Senator Vitale. “We want an organization which can provide comprehensive advice and represent a broad set of interests. Through this bill, we can transform the Public Health Council into an advisory agency which represents and reflects the many varied areas of interest within the public health arena – from pediatric to insurance providers, dentists to anti-terror experts.”

The bill would also direct the Public Health Council to resume some of the duties it had prior to an executive reorganization which took place in 2005 and essentially relegated it to a diminished advisory role. The revamped Public Health Council would be responsible for identifying public and private grants and other funding sources for public health purposes that may be available to the State, and advise the Commissioner of Health of its findings. It would also report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on its activities and include in its report such recommendations for legislative or administrative action as it deems appropriate.

“At a time when more and more people depend on some level of public assistance to access health care, we cannot afford to leave any money on the table, whether its in the form of federal grants or private research dollars,” said Senator Weinberg. “In addition to restoring the Public Health Council to its former responsibilities, we need the Council to be creative about finding funding solutions for our many publicly-funded health care programs. At the end of the day, this will allow State health care administrators to do more with less, and help the greatest number of people possible access decent, quality health care.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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