All but 78,000 of the 2 million children who call New Jersey home are covered by health insurance.
To make sure every child has access to health care, the progressive research organization New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report Friday that identified how to reach these families and make it easier for them to obtain coverage.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, pledged he would introduce legislation to make it happen.
“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,” said Vitale, who sponsored legislation to create the low-cost FamilyCare insurance program 20 years ago.
“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, (state Assemblywoman) Yvonne Lopez, to see all kids covered.”
Based on the report’s findings, Vitale said he would draft legislation to revive a program that would let higher-income parents buy in to the FamilyCare program, end the requirement that enrollees wait 90 days before coverage kicks in, eliminate FamilyCare premiums, which are among the highest in the nation and more aggressively advertise the program.
Waiving the premiums — the most expensive of the ideas proposed in the report — would cost the state $28 million, but all but $6 million would be covered by federal reimbursements.
Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, there were 360,000 uninsured children in the state in 2009, according to a report by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.
Today, 800,000 children are covered by New Jersey FamilyCare, which is now the name of the state’s Medicaid program, according to the report.
“The uninsurance rate is now so low that New Jersey is in a position where it can realistically achieve a goal that would have been unheard of only a few years ago: universal health coverage for kids,” according to the report by Policy Perspective’s senior analyst Ray Castro.
More than half of uninsured children, 58 percent, come from families whose income make them eligible for FamilyCare, the report said. The federal government would provide $60 million in reimbursement for these children’s care, the report said.
Over half (58 percent) of all uninsured children in New Jersey are eligible for, but are not enrolled in FamilyCare or Medicaid, according to the report.
Most of the uninsured kids in New Jersey are minorities, according to the report. Of the 78,000, 45 percent are Latino children, 27 percent are white children, 20 percent are black children, and six percent are Asian.
“This groundbreaking report highlights a major moral injustice in New Jersey, said the Rev. Charles F. Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice. “Over 70 percent 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.”
Johanna Calle, director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said many Latino families are deterred from seeking coverage because of the negative rhetoric coming from Washington about immigrants.
“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,” she said.
In addition to the 78,000 children, 17,000 more children are ineligible for FamilyCare/Medicaid because of their immigration status, the report said. Allowing children to enroll regardless of their legal status — like six other states have done — would cost the state $10 million, according to the report.
New Jersey insures fewer children than 19 other states, “many of which are much less wealthy, like Louisiana, Alabama, and West Virginia,” the report said.