The Star-Ledger

Report Says N.J. Immigrant Children Are Behind In Health-Care Benefits

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, June 9, 2009

By The Associated Press

NEWARK — New Jersey's percentage of uninsured immigrant children is higher than the national average, and the state has a poor track record of making sure those children receive health coverage, according to a Rutgers University report released today.

The release of the report comes on the heels of immigrant and health care advocacy groups calling on the state to restore $1 million in funding that has been eliminated in the latest round of budget tightening. The money was earmarked for community outreach efforts to educate legal immigrants on available state health programs.

Advocates argued such outreach is critical in the immigrant community, where many parents may not be tapped into traditional channels of information sharing.

"For this population, you really need face-to-face contact with organizations that these people trust, and we're just starting to do that in New Jersey," said Ray Castro, an analyst with the research group New Jersey Policy Perspective.

New Jersey mandates that all children be insured, but the report finds that nearly 300,000 children under the age of 19 in the state are without health insurance. Many of them are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and the majority of them are here legally. Nearly 225,000 children are income-eligible for free or subsidized coverage but not receiving it.

The report finds 37 percent of foreign-born children are uninsured in New Jersey, compared to a nationwide average of 33 percent.

More than half of all children who qualify for New Jersey's Family Care program live in households with at least one immigrant, the report found. Although only legal immigrants qualify for state-backed health insurance programs or Medicaid, advocates said many children are from mixed-status families, where undocumented parents may be afraid to seek information, despite the fact their American born children are eligible for health coverage.

"Greater access to health care for immigrants is extremely important, whether we talk about documented or undocumented immigrants, as immigrants represent one fifth of our population, and a sizable chunk of uninsured children in New Jersey," said Ev Liebman of NJ Citizen Action.

New Jersey had no funding for health care community outreach for five years, until $1 million was earmarked for it in 2008 — money that was recently cut from the state budget, according to Castro.

"The $1 million dollar cut is small compared to the state budget, but those funds are critical," Castro said. "It's going to cost us more in the long run."

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