The Star-Ledger

Report Finds Health Insurance Gap In N.J.

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, April 7, 2009

By The Associated Press

New Jersey residents are having a harder time paying for health care insurance than most other Americans, an advocacy group said today.

A report from Families USA, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said 32 percent under age 65 were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008 — up from 26 percent in 1999 and 2000.

The figure compares with 33 percent at the national level, 31 percent in New York and 27 percent in Pennsylvania during 2007 and 2008. Hispanics were the most likely group to be uninsured during the study period.

"The huge number of people without health coverage in New Jersey is worse than an epidemic," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

"Almost everyone in the nation has had a family member, neighbor or friend who was uninsured — and that's why meaningful health care reform can no longer be kept on the back burner," he said.

Pollack credited rising recession-related job losses with the number of uninsured and said the problem can only be expected to worsen as times get harder.

New Jersey, one of the most expensive states to live in, has a median household income for a family of four of $94,441, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Families USA said that 81 percent of New Jersey's 2.4 million uninsured residents were members of working families and that 60 percent of those with a household income of $42,400 or less lacked coverage.

Dr. J. Richard Goldstein, president of the Trenton-based New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals, called the report "startling." He estimated that unpaid bills cost state hospitals more than $1.4 billion a year.

Five acute-care hospitals filed for bankruptcy and three closed last year, leaving 74 in the state.

"The reason hospitals are closing is that the state reimbursements for charity care and Medicaid are too little," Goldstein said.

Medical costs have claimed an increasing share of family budgets in recent years, Pollack said. There's a good chance meaningful reform will occur this year since President Barack Obama has made it his top priority, he said.

"These numbers were very high even before we got into the recession," Pollack said of the percentage of uninsured Americans.

The Families USA report is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as a medical expenditure survey used by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. People who were uninsured in both 2007 and 2008 were counted only once.

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