Insider NJ

Sen. Vitale And NJPP Unveil Plan For All Kids Health Coverage

Insider NJ — March 22, 2019

By Insider NJ

TRENTON, NJ (April 12, 2019) — Earlier today, Senator Vitale joined New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and advocates in the NJ for Health Care coalition to unveil a proposal to cover all New Jersey children with health coverage.

The State House press conference coincided with the release of a new report by NJPP, It's Time for All Kids Health Coverage, which found that 78,00 New Jersey children are currently uninsured. The report also laid out legislative and administrative recommendations for New Jersey to move towards all kids coverage.

"What we found in our research is that there are still about 78,000 children who are uninsured on NJ, and unfortunately there has been no progress in reducing that number in the last three years," said Raymond Castro, NJPP Health Policy Director and author of the report. "Even worse, are enormous disparities in health coverage based on race and ethnicity, income, immigration status, and geography. The good news is that we know the realistic steps that can be taken to fix these problems. Because the cost to insure a child is so low— and the benefits are so many in terms of avoiding other much higher health and social expenditures — assuring affordable health coverage for all kids is unquestionably one of the best investments the state can make."

The report found that, after years of progress in reducing the number of uninsured children, the rate of uninsured New Jersey kids (3.5 percent) has remained flat since 2015. Alarmingly, kids of color are more likely to be uninsured, as 5.1 percent of Black kids and 6.3 percent of Hispanic kids lack health coverage. However, these percentages are low enough that all kids coverage is within reach.

"The societal benefits of making health insurance coverage available to all people are already known," said Senator Joe Vitale, Chair of the Senate Health Committee. "That is why we instituted the individual mandate here in NJ. With everyone in the pool, we can lower costs and improve access to care. This applies in the exact same way to insuring all of New Jersey's children, even those that may be undocumented."

At the press conference, Senator Vitale announced that he will be proposing new legislation to move New Jersey towards all kids coverage.

"When we cover all kids, we take a huge step in securing a healthy and prosperous future for generations to come," said Senator Vitale. "If we have found ways to make available and pay for public education for all kids, we can certainly do the same for health insurance. New Jersey prides itself on being a leader in so many ways. On this issue, we are not. But we can be. I look forward to moving this legislation forward and working with my district mate, Yvonne Lopez, to see all kids covered."

Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez will sponsor a companion bill in the lower house. The proposal will provide funding for enhanced outreach and community-based demonstration projects to enroll and assist children who are uninsured, eliminate all premiums for families in CHIP (consistent with Medicaid and 22 other states), eliminate the 90-day waiting period before enrolling in CHIP, and repealing eligibility restrictions for NJ FamilyCare based on immigration status.

"One child without healthcare coverage is too many" said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez. "New Jersey Policy Perspective has revealed serious concerns for the well-fare of children in our state, where 78,000 children remain uninsured. These children come from marginalized communities and are disproportionately from minority ethnic groups. I find it unacceptable that due to administrative barriers and inconsistent policies the health of children is being detrimentally impacted. We as a state have the opportunity to achieve the goal of universal health coverage for children and I am proud to join Senator Vitale in working towards that goal with legislative action. Regardless of location, ethnicity or income every child deserves the right to healthcare."

While New Jersey's kids of color represent 52 percent of the state's childhood population, they represent 71 percent of uninsured kids. Years of research show that these inequities not only harm people of color when they are children, but when they grow up as well. For example, Black New Jerseyans die nearly five years earlier than White New Jerseyans.

"We made tremendous gains in closing the coverage gap under the Affordable Care Act," said Maura Collinsgru, Health Care Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action and coordinator of the NJ for Health Care coalition. "Yet, far too many New Jersey children, particularly children of color, are being left behind. The findings of this report support the need for legislation that will ensure all children in our state, regardless of race or socio-economic status, have access to the health care they need. Covering all of our children is the best next step we can take toward our goal of ensuring universal coverage for all New Jerseyans."

The benefits of health coverage are well documented, and include major social benefits such as fewer school absences, higher graduation rates, better jobs when kids grow up, and less medical debt and bankruptcies for families.

"Education is our society's great equalizer, but education can only serve as an equalizer when children are healthy enough to fully participate in school," said Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association. "Without adequate health insurance, children often must take unnecessary days off from school that create barriers to academic and social success. If we desire a better a future for every child in New Jersey, we must provide quality health insurance for all children regardless of their zip code."

The report also found that many of New Jersey's immigrant families are reluctant to enroll their children in any public program because of federal anti-immigration policies. An example is the "public charge" rule, which could result in a denial of citizenship to legal immigrant parents if their children receive Medicaid. The report recommends that the state should partner with local community-based organizations that have built up trust in Latino communities to reach families with children who are already eligible for NJ FamilyCare and CHIP.

"This report comes at a critical time for our immigrant communities, including the 150,000 children with non-citizen parents," said Johanna Calle, Director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. "Increasingly immigrant parents may fear enrolling their eligible children in NJFC because of the proposed federal public charge ruling. Fifty-eight percent of children who are currently uninsured are in fact eligible for NJFC with Hispanic and African American more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts. New Jersey must do more to close this gap by following the steps of other states who have successfully worked with community-based organizations and parents to enroll all children into health care insurance."

The event also included speakers the New Jersey Hospital Association and from faith-based organizations, including the New Jersey Catholic Conference and Reverend Dr. Charles Boyer of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury.

"This groundbreaking report highlights a major moral injustice in New Jersey, said Revered Dr. Charles F. Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice. "Over 70% of our state's uninsured children are children of color. This sad reality is both a failure and an opportunity to do the righteous thing to make sure healthcare is a God given right for children."

Assuring affordable health coverage for all kids is a historic opportunity for the state.

Read the full report here.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News