Medicaid Expansion Legislation Heads To Governor’s Desk

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Nia H. Gill, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would provide Medicaid health insurance to hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents passed its final legislative hurdle Monday and heads to the Governor’s desk.

“The federal Affordable Care Act has the real opportunity to provide residents with access to affordable health insurance and a major component of the legislation – the expansion of Medicaid – will provide hundreds of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans with the quality health care coverage that all people deserve, without any initial cost to the state,” said Vitale, D-Middlesex. “With so many residents struggling for access to primary and preventive health care, we cannot in good conscience leave this funding on the table. The Governor has already committed to expanding Medicaid made possible by Obamacare and I look forward to him receiving and signing this legislation.”

The bill, S-2644, would expand Medicaid income eligibility for non-elderly adult residents of New Jersey to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, authorized under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA stipulates that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of costs associated with expanding Medicaid for the first three years. After a three-year phase down, the federal government will permanently pay 90 percent of the costs.

Medicaid expansion could bring in up to $22 billion in federal funds over eight years, provide coverage to at least 234,000 of the uninsured and reduce by more than $300 million the state expenditure for uncompensated hospital care, according to numerous studies by health care and public policy organizations.

“The federal Medicaid expansion program is a rare opportunity to provide health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children throughout the state, many of whom may not have been able to afford primary health care without this federal subsidy,” said Gill, D-Essex and Passaic. “Many low-income residents are unable to afford the high-costs associated with physicians and primary care doctors and instead head to emergency rooms when they get sick, the cost of which is passed onto New Jersey taxpayers in the form of charity care. By broadening eligibility requirements for Medicaid, we can not only provide those most in need with quality preventive care, but also take advantage of significant savings from the federal government. This is simply good health policy.”

Hospitals could realize additional savings through reduced charity care that isn’t reimbursed by the state. The state spent $675 million this year to partially compensate hospitals for unpaid bills, mostly for treating patients without insurance. This annual expense could be slashed in half, according to an analysis by New Jersey Policy Perspective, once Medicaid is expanded.

“In recent years eligibility for New Jersey’s premiere health care coverage for children and adults, NJ FamilyCare, has been dramatically reduced – cutting access to the program for many low-income adults throughout the state. Combining that with a reduction in state aid to vital women’s health care organizations that provide preventive care, the poor in New Jersey have taken a real hit in terms of services and programs provided to them,” said Weinberg. “Unable to pay for doctor’s visits, many of these vulnerable individuals have since had to turn to emergency rooms to provide the health care necessary to get well. By joining the federal Medicaid expansion program, we can begin to close the disparate gap to make sure that all New Jerseyans, no matter their financial situation, have access to health care.”

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Medicaid expansion saved lives and improved the health of newly-covered residents of states that expanded Medicaid.

The health reform law increases Medicaid eligibility to as much as 138 percent of the federal poverty level, extending coverage to more than 15 million people nationwide, including at least 234,000 in New Jersey, according to a study by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. Most are childless adults – which constitute the largest segment of New Jersey residents who lack health insurance – who currently aren’t eligible in New Jersey.

During his annual Budget Address, Gov. Chris Christie expressed plans to participate in the federal Medicaid Expansion Program. This bill would establish the statutory framework to make the expansion possible.

The bill was approved by the General Assembly with a vote of 46-32-0. Last week the Senate approved the legislation 26-12. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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