By Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget reads like a wish list for many progressive causes in public health.
Murphy’s revenue-rich budget includes:
- $25 million to reduce monthly premiums for people who buy their own health coverage;
- $20 million health coverage for all 88,000 uninsured children in the state;
- $8.5 million to permit new mothers on Medicaid to retain health coverage throughout the infant’s first year of life, under First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ initiative;
- $6.85 million to allow 20,000 additional senior citizens, previously excluded because of their income, to use the popular Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled and Senior Gold programs to cover most prescription drug costs;
- $4.2 million to fill 53 jobs to the state Health Department payroll, after years of budget cuts.
Legislative hearings get underway on the governor’s $44.8 billion spending plan Wednesday morning.
With the governor and senior Senate and Assembly leaders — all Democrats — on the same page ideologically, his proposals are likely to survive this election year. The health budget has already garnered a lot of public praise.
“We see many reasons to cheer” for this budget, said Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the Health Care Quality Institute of New Jersey, a research and consumer advocacy organization. “There’s a real understanding that efforts toward universal access to health care will make us a stronger, healthier state.”
“The focus on improving care and coverage for pregnant individuals, new mothers, babies and children is backed up with the necessary funds — and the expansion of proven health care models,” Schwimmer said.
The budget calls for dedicating $25 million to help people who qualify for assistance pay their monthly insurance premiums if they bought coverage on the state-run GetCovered.NJ.gov online marketplace. Between federal assistance and a new 2.5% state tax on health insurance companies, the average premium has fallen from $164 a month in 2020 to $121 a month in 2021, according to the state Department of Banking and Insurance. This new budget appropriation, if approved, would make monthly costs even cheaper.
This proposal would “advance health care safety and affordability, and that will enable more New Jersey residents to purchase the health care coverage they need,” Schwimmer said.
The Murphy initiative getting the most attention is Cover All Kids, which aims to enroll every uninsured child in the state into NJ FamilyCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The $20 million appropriation will cover the estimated 88,000 children who lack insurance coverage in the state.
NJ FamilyCare already covers one in three New Jersey children, according to the liberal-leaning think tank, NJ Policy Perspective.
To have more than 80,000 uninsured children is “a true stain on New Jersey’s health record,” said Brittany L. Holom-Trundy, a senior analyst for Policy Perspective.
The majority of these 88,000 uninsured children — 58% — come from families whose income already qualifies them for NJ FamilyCare, Holom-Trundy said. It is likely these families just don’t know the program exists, or if they do, believe they don’t qualify for coverage, she said.
But Cover All Kids expands eligibility for NJ FamilyCare in unprecedented ways, Holom-Trundy said. Another 19% kids will qualify because the existing program’s income limits have been expanded, while the remaining 23% will qualify because legal immigration status is not a requirement, she said.
“The proposal is a strong effort to meet the needs of the moment and help New Jersey recover from COVID,” she said.
The Murphy budget also makes a down payment to address the chronic underfunding of the Health Department, which was stretched beyond capacity during the pandemic.
The payroll line item will grow by $4.2 million to add 53 jobs in epidemiology, environmental and occupational health, early intervention services, health care quality assessment and laboratories, department spokeswoman Dawn Thomas said. Some jobs exist but are vacant while others are created to content with the “increased workloads due to the pandemic,” she said.
Debbie White, president of the nurses’ union, Health Professionals & United Allied Employees, said the additional funding is welcome.
“After years of underfunding, we applaud Gov. Murphy and Treasurer (Elizabeth) Muoio for taking strides to invest in NJ’s public health infrastructure. Our state can no longer afford to neglect infectious disease prevention programs,” White said.
“Our state can be better prepared to respond to infectious disease outbreaks across the state,” White said.
Susan K. Livio may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.