Middle Class In New Jersey Becoming Uninsured Faster Than All Other Groups

The Record ( — Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Record

Nearly 35,000 middle-class New Jersey residents lost their health insurance in the last eight years while the cost for coverage rose dramatically, according to a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The research was released as Congress is poised to vote on overhauling the health care system as early as Saturday. The measure would affect an estimated 30 million uninsured people, end insurance practices such as denying coverage to those with a preexisting condition and require almost all Americans to get coverage.

In New Jersey, the total number of uninsured in the middle class averaged 327,000 in 2008, up from 293,000 in 2000, according to the report "Barely Hanging On: Middle-Class and Uninsured."

"Maintaining the status quo is not sustainable," said Eve Weisman, health care coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action. "We absolutely need some type of health care reform."

More than 1.3 million New Jersey residents are uninsured. Approximately 650 New Jersey residents lose health insurance every day.

Family costs rise 44%

Total cost for a family insurance policy in New Jersey increased 44 percent since 2000 — to $12,789 in 2008, according to the report. Even though employers pay most of the tab, the amount employees pay in premiums for a family plan increased 88 percent in the same time period.

And the cost of insurance is far outpacing income: Median earnings in the state increased just 0.7 percent from 2000 to 2008, according to the report.

Nationwide, the total number of uninsured middle-class people increased by more than 2 million since 2000 to 12.9 million in 2008. Just 66 percent of people in families earning $45,000 to $80,000 are now insured through their employer, a drop of 7 percent in the same time period. The nation's middle class became uninsured at a pace faster than those with less or more income, the report concluded.

"America's uninsured crisis means that hard-working people with average incomes are being squeezed," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2008, 46.3 million people were known to be uninsured. Experts assume millions more have become uninsured since then because of job loss and rising costs of health insurance in the economic downturn.

About 23 percent of employees in New Jersey whose companies offered insurance were ineligible to participate — due to criteria established by the employer such as length of time with the company and number of hours worked.

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