phillyBurbs.com

Advocacy Group Wants NJ To Perform Outreach About Obamacare

phillyBurbs.com — Friday, August 2, 2013

By David Levinsky
Staff writer

About 900,000 uninsured New Jersey residents will be eligible to obtain coverage with the help of a government-run insurance marketplace that will go online this fall, but a nonprofit group is concerned that scores won't enroll because Gov. Chris Christie's administration hasn't publicized the program.

New Jersey Citizen Action wants the Department of Banking and Insurance to use $7.6 million in grant money that the state received from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to perform outreach about the new marketplace and how many residents can use it to obtain subsidized health coverage.

Numbers released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that 901,290 New Jersey residents currently without insurance will be eligible to obtain it through the new marketplace the federal government is creating for the state. About 88 percent of those residents will also qualify for tax credits to help pay for their premiums or free coverage through the state's expanded Medicaid program.

"Soon, the new online health insurance marketplace will provide families and small businesses who currently don't have insurance, or are looking for a better deal, a new way to find health coverage that fits their needs and their budgets," the department said in a statement accompanying the estimates. "The health care law is already providing better options, better value, better health, and a stronger Medicare program to the people of New Jersey."

But with enrollment through the marketplace set to begin Oct. 1, New Jersey Citizen Action is concerned that thousands of residents are still in the dark about the benefits that will be made available to them.

"With over 800,000 people eligible, that's a lot of people who need to be informed about how to do this and what options are out there," said Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate for the group. "There's not a broad scope communication campaign to get the word out in New Jersey."

The marketplace, which will feature both online and telephone access, is being created by the federal government because Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have directed the state to build and govern it.

Although Christie rejected the idea of creating a state-run exchange, he agreed to expand New Jersey's Medicaid program to allow an additional 104,000 adults to enroll in the state-run insurance program.

The expansion was an optional component of the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama has promised billions in additional federal funding to help pay for the expansion.

Residents who qualify for Medicaid are expected to be able to enroll in the program through the federal marketplace that's being built.

The Department of Health and Human Services said about 70 percent of the uninsured residents who are eligible to purchase insurance through the marketplace are in a household with at least one full-time worker. About 56 percent of them are men, 38 percent are between 18 and 35 years old, and 40 percent are white.

Collinsgru said that her group is conducting training programs about the reform law throughout the state, but that more outreach is needed.

"People don't have a lot of specifics about what's coming. Those that do are pretty enthused," she said. "A lot of the negativity about the law stems from lack of knowledge."

As an example, she said most people are unaware that a family of four with an income of up to $94,000 is eligible to obtain subsidized coverage that would cap its premium costs at no more than 9 percent of its income.

Information about the actual insurance plans and premium costs that will be available on the New Jersey marketplace is expected to be released next month.

New Jersey still has about $7.6 million left over from a federal planning grant it received to help develop a state insurance marketplace. Although Christie opted to permit the federal government to create and run New Jersey's exchange, Collinsgru said it could still use the remaining funds to cover costs for outreach.

State officials have yet to detail how they plan to use that remaining money.

Collinsgru called the silence "baffling" and said residents could miss out on substantial savings.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is directing residents to the website www.healthcare.gov to learn more about the health care reform law and obtaining coverage through the new marketplaces.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News