The Star-Ledger

Plan Would Cut Seniors' Rebates, Sparing Programs

Proposal aimed at wealthier citizens

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, May 13, 2009


In a bid to protect sick and disabled people and working-poor parents from budget cuts, Sen. Joseph Vitale yesterday announced he wants to grab cash for their programs by temporarily slicing rebate checks for senior citizens earning $100,000 to $150,000.

Vitale (D-Middlesex) offered the controversial maneuver to save $15.7 million — including $9.7 million needed to permit an estimated 17,000 working-poor families to enroll in the state-run FamilyCare health insurance program he sponsored more than a decade ago.

Cutting the rebate would also avert a planned $2 per prescription co-pay — up to $10 per month — for disabled people on Medicaid, and a $6-to-$15 prescription co-pay for people with HIV/AIDS.

"Our convictions are going to be tested as we come to terms with the fact that we simply do not have enough money to fund all of the state's priorities," said Vitale, chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. "But unless funding is restored for programs like NJ FamilyCare, Medicaid drug benefits and the AIDS Drug Distribution Program, I will be voting against the FY 2010 budget."

But Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said she didn't think restoring program cuts were "in the realm of possibility at this point, given the collapse of revenues." Last week, the state Office of Legislative Services said the deficit in the current budget year, which ends June 30, is at least 1.2 billion.

"Not one of us in the Legislature is feeling good about this budget," Buono said.

Groups representing senior citizens, families, clergy, consumers, and the managed care industry joined Vitale at a Statehouse press conference in Trenton to support his proposal.

AARP backs the rebate cut affecting "relatively wealthy" senior citizens because "all of those programs help very low-income people get the health care they desperately need," said, Doug Johnson, the AARP's advocacy manager.

Vitale's proposal would affect the roughly 35,200 senior citizen homeowners who earned between $100,000 and $150,000 last year and received a $763 rebate check, Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz said. Vitale also suggested tapping into a hospital tax that benefits clinics if the rebate measure fails to gain support.

Vitale also offered to soften the blow on seniors by agreeing to use some of the savings to roll back the $1 increase on co-pays imposed this year on the 155,000 people in the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled program.

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