Newsworks

Challenging N.J. FamilyCare In Court

Newsworks — Tuesday, February 8, 2011

By Taunya English
Health and Science Reporter

Several consumer and immigrants-rights groups say they're lining up to support a lawsuit against New Jersey.

Last year, state officials changed the eligibility rules for N.J. FamilyCare. That's the program that helps residents better afford health care.

Legal immigrants now must live in the United States for at least five years before they can sign up for the New Jersey program.

Crystal Snedden of New Jersey Citizen Action says the change is unlawful discrimination and bad for taxpayers.

"Any time you have 12,000 people who at one point had health care that they were paying into, and then suddenly are cut from having any health-care coverage, this is going to increase the burden on everyone else who ends up having to pay the fees in charity care or any other fees in uncompensated care that these people will end up needing," she said.

Department officials declined to comment because the program is facing litigation.

Health-policy experts say New Jersey likely made the change to mirror federal rules. Legal immigrants must wait five years before they are eligible for Medicaid benefits.

In the past, New Jersey allowed newcomers to join the state program. But instead of sharing the costs with the federal government, the state paid the full freight for that care.

Health-policy analyst Ray Castro of New Jersey Policy Perspective says the change is a break with tradition. New Jersey used to treated legal residents equally, whether they are newcomers — or not, he says.

"These are all immigrants, so of course, most of them are Hispanic. You know, the state will say that they have based it on their immigration status but in effect it has eliminated Hispanic families from FamilyCare, that's what the effect of it is," Castro said.

Castro's group, New Jersey Citizen Action, Democracia and other consumer groups are co-signing a "friend of the court" motion to support the plaintiffs in the case against the state.

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