Full Enrollment Under The ACA Could Bring Huge Benefits To N.J.

NJBIZ — Wednesday, February 11, 2015

By Beth Fitzgerald

With the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period closing soon, reaching full enrollment would secure health coverage for 1.2 million New Jerseyans while pumping more than $5 billion in federal funds a year into the Garden State, according to a new report Wednesday from New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The ACA has added about 400,000 Medicaid members in New Jersey, and of those more than 200,000 have purchased health plans at HealthCare.gov.

NJPP said the state's Medicaid expansion via NJ FamilyCare has reached 76 percent of full enrollment, and 122,000 potential enrollees remain. On HealthCare.gov, where more than 80 percent of those who enroll are getting federal subsidies to defray the cost of coverage, the state has so far reached about 30 percent of full enrollment, with 499,000 potential enrollees remaining.

NJPP senior policy analyst and report author Raymond Castro said, "New Jersey has made major progress, but more can be done. Local and state leaders need to realize that higher enrollment not only means better health, but also more jobs in a struggling economy."

Castro said NJPP is calling on local leaders, in cities and towns across the state, to step up their outreach efforts and encourage their residents to take advantage of the ACA by enrolling in Medicaid or buying a health plan via HealthCare.gov.

Because the state is not allocating money for outreach "we have to rely on local leaders: they have health departments that can help with enrollment, and we are seeing that in some cities. And we are encouraging even more of that given that it is unlikely that the state will jump in in here," Castro said.

The report found that if full enrollment in Medicaid and HealthCare.gov is achieved in New Jersey:

"Over the past year, there has been a tremendous effort to educate individuals and families about the benefits of the ACA. With more than 600,000 New Jerseyans now enrolled, individuals and communities all across the state are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act's impact," New Jersey Citizen Action health policy advocate Maura Collinsgru said. "We hope the economic promise of attaining full health coverage enrollment demonstrated in this report will urge more of our local, county and state officials to join us in connecting New Jerseyans to the coverage they want and need."

Collinsgru said, "We can see this demonstrated, where local officials have been engaged, in Newark, and Jersey City and Paterson, we are seeing more robust enrollment and greater economic impact. This demonstrates that local officials being involved has made a difference in terms of numbers and the impact of the ACA on their communities."

The report breaks down the impact of full enrollment by county, and also for New Jersey's 20 largest cities. Essex, Hudson and Middlesex counties would see the greatest economic benefit from bridging the enrollment gap, but even for the counties that would see the least, the economic impact would be over $5 million a year.

"Given New Jersey's staggering economy and the obvious economic benefits of (HealthCare.gov) and Medicaid — on top of the even more obvious health benefits — one would expect the (Christie) administration to go into high gear to mobilize the state's uninsured to enroll," NJPP President Gordon MacInnes said. "To stay on the sidelines, as it has done to date, harms the uninsured and the state as a whole."

The report estimates that the direct and indirect impact of the federal money flowing into the state would translate into about 58,000 jobs, if all 1.2 million potential enrollees sign up for Medicaid or for HealthCare.gov.

"We expect most of these jobs will be in health care, but it will generate other jobs as well," Castro said. "As we get more radiologists and nurses and so on, and their salaries increase, they will spend money on houses and cars."

Most of the jobs will be health care jobs, which Castro said are "very diverse jobs in terms of wages: there are low and high wage jobs (providing) opportunity for everyone in the state."

New Jersey is among 37 states that did not create its own exchange under the ACA, and thus received less federal funding for outreach to help get the uninsured covered. The report points out that the state has not provided funding for outreach, and federal funding for New Jersey to hire and train navigators who people enroll has been limited.

"Optimizing enrollments will require the leadership of public officials, civic group and nonprofit organizations if New Jersey is not to leave literally billions of dollar on the table," the report said.

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, said, "Uninsured workers and their families cost New Jersey employers millions of dollars in lost work days and decreased productivity. Small employers have every incentive to get workers covered either on Medicaid or on the health care marketplace."

According to the report, enrollment of New Jerseyans on HealthCare.gov is now about 210,000, or about 30 percent of its full potential. At that level, HealthCare.gov is providing $670 million a year to New Jersey, in the form of subsidies that are provided to low and moderate income individuals and families to help them afford coverage. Full New Jersey enrollment on HealthCare.gov would total 709,000, bringing the state $2.3 billion in federal funds, according to the NJPP analysis.

On the Medicaid side, full enrollment would bring about 518,000 more New Jerseyans into Medicaid, and about $2.9 billion more federal funds to the state. Medicaid is funded by both the state and the federal governments, and there are currently more than 1.4 million Medicaid members in New Jersey.

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