Groups Launch Effort To Promote Obamacare To N.J. Uninsured

The Record ( — Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Record

A coalition of non-profit and advocacy groups Wednesday announced statewide enrollment goals for new health insurance options available to the uninsured through the Affordable Care Act and the establishment of a grassroots campaign to reach them.

Some 549,000 people in New Jersey should enroll over the next three years in the newly expanded state Medicaid program or the insurance plans sold on the federal health insurance marketplace,, the group said at a Trenton news conference. That is about two-thirds of the total population of uninsured in New Jersey who are eligible for insurance under the law known as Obamacare.

The state decided early on not to participate in helping people enroll. The Department of Banking and Insurance last month allowed a $7.6 million grant to lapse that had been available for outreach and marketing of the federal insurance marketplace for New Jersey resident.

If that money had been used to fund a statewide media campaign to inform people about the Affordable Care Act, it could have boosted enrollment by about 95,000 people, said Raymond Castro of New Jersey Policy Perspective, the liberal think tank in Trenton that issued the report.

"We're going to do everything we can to make up for the fact that we don't have those funds," Castro said.

While the ultimate goal is to insure all 900,000 uninsured state residents, that will take many years, he noted. Over the next three years, some will be left out because they don't know about the new law and its requirement to sign up for health coverage, don't mind paying the penalty for failing to sign up, or are so poor that the penalty doesn't apply to them, he said.

The group identified monthly, county-by-county enrollment targets for the next three years as a way to coordinate the efforts of a small army of federally supported and volunteer enrollment counselors. For 2014, for example, Bergen County should have 13,000 people sign up for marketplace health plans and another 13,000 sign up for Medicaid, according to the report. Passaic County should have 9,500 sign up for marketplace plans and 14,000 sign up for Medicaid.

Medicaid is available to people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or $15,521 for a single person and $31,721 for a family of four in 2014. People can sign up for Medicaid at any time during the year. The marketplace plans offer premium subsidies for those up to 300 percent of the poverty level, or $34,470 this year for a single person and $70,650 for a family of four. The open enrollment period for coverage this year through the marketplace plans ends on March 31; it opens again Nov. 15 for coverage starting in 2015.

Setting specific goals based on census information "helps us to plan and coordinate better," said Maura Collinsgru, head of the NJ for Health Care Coalition and a health care advocate with New Jersey Citizen Action. "We can look and say, 'How far did we get? Where can we shift our resources to help better attain these goals?

"Our resources are mainly manpower," she added. Federally funded navigators are working around the state to sign people up for coverage, and voluntary efforts are under way at Planned Parenthood affiliates and through various church and community groups.

"We're doing a lot of work on the ground," Collinsgru said, "but there are a lot of people to be reached."

The enrollment targets were calculated by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. Over the next three years, 315,000 people should enroll in marketplace plans and another 234,000 in Medicaid plans, the report said.

Through January, New Jersey had about 44,000 people enroll in Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, and 55,000 in marketplace plans, according to the federal government.

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