The Star-Ledger

N.J.'s Public Health, Economy 'Threatened' Without Universal Care, Report Says

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, October 8, 2009

By Susan Livio

TRENTON — If Congress fails to pass a universal health care bill, New Jerseyans can expect their health insurance premiums to rise, more employers to drop coverage, and more pain for the middle class, according to a report released today.

The report by New Jersey Policy Perspective urges the state's congressional delegation to fight for passage of the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 and rally more public support for the bill that would extend coverage to about 1 million people in the state.

There are roughly 1.3 million uninsured people living in New Jersey, according to the report.

"Given the unrelenting increase in the number of people without insurance and the high cost of health coverage in New Jersey, health reform is a necessity, not an option,'' according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective report, The Right Rx for New Jersey: National Health Care Reform. "Without it, the state's public health and its economy are threatened.''

Passing the legislation would help halt a disturbing trend in the state among employers.

Reeling from soaring premium costs, employers covered 7 percent fewer families between 2007-08 than they did in 2000-01. Nationally, private businesses covered 5 percent fewer people during that same period, according to the report.

Employers paid an average $10,100 per person this year, compared with $5,982 in 2000. Workers suffered even more, paying $3,494 in average premium costs this year, double the $1,610 they shelled out in 2000. That doesn't include the nearly $2,000 workers spent on co-pays and deductibles, the report said.

Publicly funded programs — primarily FamilyCare, aimed at working poor families — prevented New Jersey from faring far worse, the report found.

The nonpartisan, non profit liberal-leaning research group wrote the report out of concern average people don't understand what the proposed universal health care bill offers.

"Unfortunately, the debate on this issue has often centered on the concerns raised by interest groups that have a political agenda or a major financial stake in the health industry, which now represents one-sixth of the nation's economy,'' according to the report by Raymond Castro, a senior policy analyst.

The universal health care legislation offers a potential lifeline to the middle class, according to the report. A family of four earning a maximum of $88,200 would be eligible for a subsidy to help them afford a policy. Families earning above that amount would be able to buy insurance at "competitive rates" offered through an exchange, or the "public option" that has not been included in Senate versions of the bill.

This is the second report this month projecting the dire consequences for New Jersey, as well as the nation, if a health care reform bill does not pass.

A report commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and released last week predicted the number of uninsured people would climb to 1.9 million within a decade, about 500,000 to 600,000 more than current estimates. The average resident also would spend nearly 68 percent more on their medical care, and employers would see premiums double during the next ten years, according to the report.

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