The Star-Ledger

State Might Cancel Multiple Health Policies

Planned budget could close loophole to end officials' dual coverage

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, May 29, 2003

BY JOE DONOHUE
Star-Ledger Staff

Gov. James E. McGreevey's proposed budget would close a loophole that allows state and local officials to enjoy more than one health insurance policy at taxpayer expense.

The rule change, delivered in a two-line sentence tucked onto page 508 of the pending state budget, would affect dozens of state and local public employees who were covered by more than one public insurance plan earlier this year.

"No monies appropriated herein shall be used to provide additional health insurance coverage to a state or local elected official when that official receives health insurance coverage as a result of holding other public office or employment," the budget states.

The state could save more than $1 million by canceling the dual policies, according to State Auditor Richard Fair. For the past four years the auditor has criticized State Health Benefits Program rules that enable public employees to avail themselves of taxpayer subsidized health insurance plans from more than one public employer at a time.

A Star-Ledger review of legislators who hold jobs with other public bodies found nine who were covered by more than one public health policy. The total cost for the overlapping coverages was $139,000.

Critics of dual coverage say the proposed change is significant.

"Working people who can't get health care at all shouldn't be footing the bill for legislators to have multiple policies," said Staci Berger, a lobbyist for New Jersey Citizen Action. "It's a very small thing, but it's a moral victory."

Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for Gov. James E. McGreevey, said the new budget language was a matter of fairness and economics.

"If someone has more than one policy available to them then it's an issue of duplication and it's an issue of potential cost savings," he said.

Overall health benefits for state workers will cost the state more than $957 million during the coming year, the budget projects.

Since The Star-Ledger reported on the dual coverages in February, at least two of the lawmakers cited have dropped their duplicate policies.

One of them, Sen. Joseph Suliga (D-Union), said he had dropped a state policy that cost taxpayers $5,631 last year and now takes coverage only through his job in Linden.

Despite the fact the new policy would no longer affect him, Suliga questioned whether the state has the right to limit access to health coverage for certain employees.

"I don't know if that's legal," he said.

Dunstan McNichol covers state government. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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