N.J. Policy Perspective hopes poverty study will lead to change

TRENTON – An analyst with a nonpartisan research organization hopes the findings of a national study about the effects of funding cuts on the uninsured will lead to changes in the law.

Raymond Castro, a senior policy analyst with N.J. Policy Perspective, said today he hopes the study by the National Center for Children in Poverty – which showed that reducing funding hurts  the uninsured who depend on programs such as N.J. PrimaryCare – will spur changes in how the state treats its lower-income residents.

 Sen. Joseph Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge, has two bills in committee Monday: One would provide $6.4 million to help adults whose income is between 134 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll in NJ FamilyCare, and the other would provide $1 million for an enhanced outreach and enrollment initiative.

Castro, who said he has been working on this issue since 2007, said New Jersey is falling behind other states.

As a result of Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to reduce eligibility limits, 43,000 parents were denied coverage in fiscal year 2011, and another 27,000 would be denied in fiscal year 2012, according to Castro.

And this is all happening during a recession in which many employers are dropping coverage and many people are jobless altogether, he pointed out.

There are approximately 1.3 million uninsured, he said: “There is nowhere for them to go.’’

“It is almost as if the ranks of the uninsured don’t exist,’’ he said in expressing the frustration advocates have with government leaders who are making it more difficult for the most vulnerable citizens to find affordable coverage.

But he holds out hope for Vitale’s bills advancing and eventually being signed.

For one thing, Castro said, during this recession the uninsurance rates for children actually went down, from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 6 percent last year.

“That’s a remarkable accomplishment,’’ Castro said, “so we know FamilyCare works.’’

For another, Castro pointed out that the administration has backed off some of the more drastic aspects of its planned cuts.

In its Medicaid waiver application submitted in September, the administration  scrapped its original plan to freeze enrollment for N.J. FamilyCare parents with income below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Initially, the administration was seeking to put a freeze on accepting new adults into the  FamilyShare program by reducing the income eligibly requirements from $24,645 to $5,317 for a family of three. The administration projected that for 2012, some 23,000 adults would have been impacted by changing the income eligibility limits. Children would still be accepted, however.

Even with those positive developments, Castro said more can be done.

He said that government’s response to the recession was to expand business tax credits by hundreds of millions of dollars. It is time to expand efforts toward those most unfortunate, he argued.

“Why aren’t we taking a balanced approach,” he said.

Previous coverage:

National Center for Children in Poverty criticizes cuts to N.J. FamilyCare, Medicaid

Medicaid waiver application discards planned income eligibility changes

  N.J. Policy Perspective hopes poverty study will lead to change