Senate passes out-of-state fix before milestone public worker reform

TRENTON – The Senate handled a legislative fix to an opposed out-of-state care provision in state Sen. President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) pension and benefit reform plan. They voted on the out-of-state fix first, said one statehouse source, to ensure it is enacted before the actual reform bill is voted on by the body. It was approved 24-14.

The new bill would require insurers under the various state health benefits plans to offer at least one plan that would restrict users to in-state providers and at-least one plan that would allow participants to go out of state for health coverage. The benefits design boards created by the pension and benefit reform bill under discussion in the Assembly Budget Committee today and up for vote by the full Senate, would design the required plans.

Sources told State Street Wire earlier today that only the lowest cost plan would contain the out of state restrictions, but Democratic sources say the design is up to the board and is not yet set.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-7), of Edgewater Park, said since the landmark reform bill has the votes to pass: “Boy, we better pass this now.”

She, like others, had serious questions about the ramifications of disincentivizing out-of-state medical care for public employees. State Sens. Barbara Buono (D-18), of Metuchen, Joe Vitale (D-19), of Woodbridge, rallied some of the workers gathered on the balcony level today.

“I’m not sure I really digested all of the language,” Buono said, including potential penalties for physicians who certify a need for out-of-state care. She also said retirees who have left the state would be “compelled” to select the out-of-state plan, which will likely cost more.

Vitale said doctors, not geography should drive medical care decisions. Speaking more toward the broader terms of the reform bill, he said the state should cap health care contributions at 5 percent of salary. He also said, “Everyone should pay about the same amount,” which he said wasn’t the case for workers earning over $140,000 who are “protected” against increases because they have reached the top tier of the contribution scale.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1), of Dennis Township, who is supporting Sweeney’s reform bill and the out-of-state fix, said workers can go out-of-state once they’re certified by a doctor. He also said the current employees who have out-of-state coverage would be grandfathered in. “Everyone can keep the same type of health insurance they have now,” he said.

Senate passes out-of-state fix before milestone public worker reform