The Star-Ledger

$103 A Week Would Be Too Much To Get Medicaid

Gov. Christie's Proposed Income Limits Would Cut Medicaid For Working Poor

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, May 19, 2011

By Susan K. Livio / Statehouse Bureau

TRENTON — Adults in a family of three that makes as little as $103 a week would earn too much to qualify for health care provided by Medicaid under a sharply curtailed program Gov. Chris Christie wants the federal government to approve this year, according to state officials and advocates briefed on the proposal.

If approved by the Obama administration, the change would affect only new applicants and virtually everyone in the program now would continue to receive health benefits, officials said. Children would continue to be accepted.

Nonetheless, advocates said it would eliminate a future health care avenue for thousands of working poor residents.

The state estimates that about 23,000 people in the coming fiscal year would be prevented from enrolling in Medicaid and New Jersey FamilyCare, a spinoff program for working poor who make slightly more than the Medicaid limits.

The Christie administration is expected to propose cutting the maximum income level of Medicaid from $24,645 to $5,317 a year for a family of three, said Ray Castro, senior analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank, who was briefed by administration officials. State officials confirmed the figure.

"That is about a third of the poverty level," Castro said. "That means that an uninsured parent working full time at a minimum-wage job wouldn't be eligible. ... A parent who works half-time for minimum wage wouldn't even qualify.

"Unfortunately, the only way these parents can become eligible for health coverage in the future is if the parent applies for and is eligible for welfare," Castro added. "That sends the wrong message."

Since Christie announced in February that his proposed budget would seek $300 million in Medicaid savings, his administration has released few details explaining how it would be done. State Department of Human Services officials have said they are preparing to seek permission by submitting a "Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver" application next month.

How much would be saved by limiting eligibility is not clear.

State Human Services spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie on Wednesday called "freezing" the program "the responsible option in the face of an unprecedented budget crisis, and it's an option that's been exercised in the past. Because of the federal restrictions, it's one that we've included in the proposed Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver."

Medicaid is running a $1.4 billion deficit, Christie officials have said.

As of February, 916,476 people were enrolled in either Medicaid or FamilyCare, which included 668,315 children. Children are not expected to lose coverage.

Castro said his group and others are calling on the Obama administration to reject this aspect of the state's Medicaid proposal. "People are still struggling trying to find work.

This is the time families are relying on FamilyCare and Medicaid to keep essential health care benefits," said Crystal Snedden of New Jersey Citizen Action.

"This completely dismantles the progress made over the last 12 years, and then some," said Sen. Joseph Vitale, (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the legislation creating FamilyCare in 1998.

The change would drive up charity care, the uncompensated care hospitals provide to people without insurance, Vitale said, and leave people hanging until 2014, when the federal health care reform law is expected to provide states a cash windfall to cover people without insurance.

"I can't imagine how it could be any worse," Vitale said.

"I guess they could freeze enrollment for children, but that would only buy them a ticket to hell.''

Copyright 2011 The Star-Ledger

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News