Lawmakers blast Christie’s Medicaid eligibility changes

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee blasted a proposal by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration Tuesday to put a freeze on accepting new adults into Medicaid who would currently be eligible.

The proposal calls for significantly reducing the income eligibility requirements, from $24,645 to $5,317 for a family of three. The administration projects that for fiscal year 2012, some 23,000 residents will not qualify for Medicaid because they fall into that income eligibility abyss.

The administration also plans on requiring uninsured patients to pay a $25 co-pay in emergency rooms if they seek “non-emergent” care there. Officials said the move is intended to change their behavior, in hopes of making positive lifestyle changes that would make it less likely for them to require medical care in the future.

Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), of Voorhees said limiting the number of poor people eligible for Medicaid will result in increases to hospital emergency rooms in order for them to seek care for such things as strep throat and ear infections. Greenwald said this happened many years ago when similar freezes to state insurance programs for the poorest residents in the state were in place.

“Hospitals started hemorrhaging and costs for charity care skyrocketed,” Greenwald said.

He, along with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, (D-37), Bergen, pointed out that New Jersey’s cost-of-living is much higher than the national average, but the salaries used to determine poverty are based on national averages, and are not a true reflection of how expensive the Garden State really is.

Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez testified that children will still be accepted in the program, but the adults won’t.

“The child will receive insurance for sure,” she said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Velez added the administration’s seeking of a $300 million Medicaid global waiver  is intended to restructure the program “from the ground up” and return the Medicaid program to its original mission: providing state-funded medical care to the “aged, blind, disabled, and children.”

With such a low-income eligibility level, Gary Schaer, (D-36), of Passaic said the plight of poverty-stricken residents will only get worse. He also questioned how likely it is poor residents will even be able to come up with an emergency room co-pay.

“You all realistically think people can survive,” he said.

Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary O’Dowd said uninsured patients can still go to community health clinics, some of which are run by hospitals. However, several committee members pointed out those clinics are already overburdened.

  Lawmakers blast Christie’s Medicaid eligibility changes