NJ Spotlight

Uninsured And Under 65 In New Jersey

The number of New Jerseyans going without coverage is still climbing, although there is some good news when it comes to kids

NJ Spotlight — Friday, August 31, 2012

By Colleen O'Dea, NJ Spotlight

The number of New Jerseyans without health insurance continues to rise, with new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that 15 percent of people under 65 lack coverage.

GRAPHIC: The percentage of people under age 65 without health insurance in 2010. — click here for an interactive version (if available at the news source) which will let you access detailed statistics for any county.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The ranks of the uninsured in New Jersey rose nearly 11 percent between 2008 and 2010, according to the Small Area Health Insurance Estimates released yesterday by census officials. Advocates said such increases are to be expected given the continued poor economy, high unemployment, and state cutbacks to a program providing insurance to working-poor families.

"I don't think it's surprising at all," said Jeff Brown of New Jersey Citizen Action, which is part of the New Jersey for Health Care Coalition that supports the creation of a state health benefit exchange and an expansion of Medicaid. "Two years ago, the governor cut [New Jersey] Family Care. Parent eligibility was 200 percent of the poverty level. He cut it to 133 percent... It was definitely disappointing to see that."

While the census estimates that 1.1 million New Jerseyans under 65 are going without insurance, that figure is slightly lower than the 1.3 million suggested by several groups working to reduce the ranks of the uninsured.

The poor in New Jersey have the lowest rates of coverage: Nearly 3 in 10 people with earnings as high as twice the poverty level — currently $23,050 for a family of four — had no insurance. That's twice the overall percentage of those lacking coverage.

There was some good news, however. Altough more than 135,000 children under 19 were reported as uninsured, that's a decline of about 18,000 — nearly 1 full percentage point in two years. Just 6.3 percent of children in the state had no coverage in 2010.

"That's great news," said Mary Coogan, assistant director of the Association for Children of New Jersey, "and it seems to be staying down, we're not seeing the bumps up and down like we used to."

She said the state has made a major effort to enroll as many families as possible through schools, hospitals, and income tax and unemployment forms. Much of the process is automated, or at least there is only a one-page application to complete.

Still, 21 states did a better job at insuring children: In Massachusetts, which pioneered a health insurance mandate similar to the federal Affordable Care Act, just 1.7 percent of children, or about 26,000, were uncovered.

With 15 percent of its population uninsured, New Jersey ranks about in the middle of the states. Again, Massachusetts came in with the lowest numbers — 5.2 percent. Texas had the highest rate, 26.3 percent.

The 2008 – 2010 statistics — along with the 2011 estimates for larger counties that census officials plan on releasing next week — provide fodder for those arguing over what the state should be doing to deal with the uninsured in light of the impending federal mandate.

Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed bills that would enable New Jersey to establish its own health insurance exchange. Unable to override those vetoes, Democratic lawmakers have reintroduced the measures. If the state wants to receive federal funding, it has until Nov. 16 to notify Washington of its plans. If the state fails to do so, the federal government will set up an exchange.

Advocates are also calling for the state to expand Medicaid to all of those at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty limit — not just those covered by Family Care. By one estimate, that would take 440,000 off the rolls of the uninsured. Christie has said the state's Medicaid program is already generous.

Brown said that if the state expands Medicaid and puts its own exchange in place, it would help some 800,000 people currently lacking coverage, and "that could start to bring down healthcare costs."

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