NorthJersey.com

Poor May Face Co-Payments For ER Visits

$6 ER Co-Pay For Poor On The Table Again

The Record (NorthJersey.com) — Monday, April 28, 2008

BY JOHN REITMEYER
STAFF WRITER

State legislators today questioned a portion of Gov. Corzine's proposed budget that requires the poor to pay $6 if they visit the emergency room for routine care.

The governor, meanwhile, is planning to discuss his budget – and its steep aid cuts – with the chief operating officers of the state's hospitals during a meeting tomorrow morning in Princeton.

The proposed Medicaid co-payment for emergency room visits would generate an estimated $550,000 for the state. It comes at a time when significant cuts are being proposed to make up for a shortfall between what legislators have traditionally spent and what Corzine believes the state can actually afford.

New Jersey would also begin charging Medicaid recipients a $2 prescription drug co-payment under Corzine's proposed $33.3 billion spending plan for fiscal 2009. Right now, the state is one of eight nationally that do not charge the poor a co-payment for prescription drugs. The new fee could bring in as much as $7 million.

Members of the state Senate Budget Committee asked state Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez to explain the proposed changes during a meeting Monday morning.

State Sen. Dana Redd, D-Camden, asked Velez if the policy change could lead the poor to forego medical care to save money for other needs, such as food or shelter.

"I know that I have several constituents in my district, and I'm sure constituents throughout the state of New Jersey – because they're living on a fixed income – they make decisions they feel are the best decisions for their livelihood," Redd said.

Velez, a lawyer Corzine nominated for the commissioner post in February 2007, responded by agreeing with Redd.

"I do think it's a valid concern, I couldn't tell you that it's not," she said.

Velez said the emergency room co-payments would be capped at $12 monthly. The prescription drug fee would be capped at $10 monthly, she said.

Some Medicaid recipients, including pregnant women and those receiving temporary assistance, would be exempted, Velez said.

Ev Liebman, advocacy director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said later Monday that the new co-payments could end up costing the state more money in the long run if the poor decide to skip routine care, not spend money on medications and seek attention only in emergencies.

"For this population it is too much," said Liebman, whose organization is part of a new, 20-member coalition that will call for health care reform during a news conference in the State House today.

"Not everyone can afford to pay something," she said. "It doesn't mean they are irresponsible."

Velez was asked during the meeting about the affordability of the co-payments, particularly for prescription drugs. She pointed to a study that would put New Jersey's $2 prescription drug fee somewhere in the middle of a national scale that ranges from 50 cents to $20.

"What we propose in the budget is not the worst or the most generous, either," she said.

The budget Corzine has proposed for fiscal 2009 would reduce overall spending below the current $33.5 billion plan that expires on June 30. The governor's new budget would cut aid to municipalities, colleges and hospitals in an effort to reduce overall spending.

Corzine has also proposed shrinking the state workforce, closing three cabinet-level agencies and cutting back the state parks system to save money. The Legislature must pass a balanced budget by July 1.

Velez said her agency, which has the largest budget of the state departments, was doing its best given the state's larger budget problems.

"It's a real sea change for New Jersey, no doubt," she said. "There are very few, if any, I would say, 'good options.' "

E-mail: reitmeyer@northjersey.com

State legislators today questioned a portion of Gov. Corzine's proposed budget that requires the poor to pay $6 if they visit the emergency room for routine care.

The governor, meanwhile, is planning to discuss his budget – and its steep aid cuts – with the chief operating officers of the state's hospitals during a meeting tomorrow morning in Princeton.

The proposed Medicaid co-payment for emergency room visits would generate an estimated $550,000 for the state. It comes at a time when significant cuts are being proposed to make up for a shortfall between what legislators have traditionally spent and what Corzine believes the state can actually afford.

New Jersey would also begin charging Medicaid recipients a $2 prescription drug co-payment under Corzine's proposed $33.3 billion spending plan for fiscal 2009. Right now, the state is one of eight nationally that do not charge the poor a co-payment for prescription drugs. The new fee could bring in as much as $7 million.

Members of the state Senate Budget Committee asked state Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez to explain the proposed changes during a meeting Monday morning.

State Sen. Dana Redd, D-Camden, asked Velez if the policy change could lead the poor to forego medical care to save money for other needs, such as food or shelter.

"I know that I have several constituents in my district, and I'm sure constituents throughout the state of New Jersey – because they're living on a fixed income – they make decisions they feel are the best decisions for their livelihood," Redd said.

Velez, a lawyer Corzine nominated for the commissioner post in February 2007, responded by agreeing with Redd.

"I do think it's a valid concern, I couldn't tell you that it's not," she said.

Velez said the emergency room co-payments would be capped at $12 monthly. The prescription drug fee would be capped at $10 monthly, she said.

Some Medicaid recipients, including pregnant women and those receiving temporary assistance, would be exempted, Velez said.

Ev Liebman, advocacy director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said later Monday that the new co-payments could end up costing the state more money in the long run if the poor decide to skip routine care, not spend money on medications and seek attention only in emergencies.

"For this population it is too much," said Liebman, whose organization is part of a new, 20-member coalition that will call for health care reform during a news conference in the State House today.

"Not everyone can afford to pay something," she said. "It doesn't mean they are irresponsible."

Velez was asked during the meeting about the affordability of the co-payments, particularly for prescription drugs. She pointed to a study that would put New Jersey's $2 prescription drug fee somewhere in the middle of a national scale that ranges from 50 cents to $20.

"What we propose in the budget is not the worst or the most generous, either," she said.

The budget Corzine has proposed for fiscal 2009 would reduce overall spending below the current $33.5 billion plan that expires on June 30. The governor's new budget would cut aid to municipalities, colleges and hospitals in an effort to reduce overall spending.

Corzine has also proposed shrinking the state workforce, closing three cabinet-level agencies and cutting back the state parks system to save money. The Legislature must pass a balanced budget by July 1.

Velez said her agency, which has the largest budget of the state departments, was doing its best given the state's larger budget problems.

"It's a real sea change for New Jersey, no doubt," she said. "There are very few, if any, I would say, 'good options.' "

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