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Op-Ed: Health Care Reform: New Jersey Hospitals And Patients Stand To Gain

Op-Ed

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There's been a lot of talk about winners and losers since health care reform has become the law of the land. However, the real winners are the American people, and in particular, people who live in New Jersey.

Costs for treating uninsured patients have been a death sentence for hospitals throughout the Garden State. When I was first elected to Congress in 1996, two of New Jersey's hospitals closed. That number has grown to 25 as of this year, according to the New Jersey Hospitals Association. The emergence from bankruptcy by St. Mary's Hospital in Passaic a few weeks ago is clearly more the exception than the rule.

The health care legislation is projected to reduce costs to New Jersey hospitals for treating the uninsured by $558 million every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Much of the cost of providing health care to uninsured people gets picked up bythe taxpayers.

The savings to hospitals, coupled with the more than 500,000 uninsured New Jerseyans who will now receive coverage through the law, is the best remedy I've seen to stop the closing of acute-care facilities.

Through the past year, I have believed that nothing significant could be accomplished in improving health care availability without a strong network of health care professionals. As ironic as it may seem in the current job market, New Jersey faces a shortage of nearly 20,000 nurses. That shortage is expected to grow as high as 43,000, with 20 percent of the state's nurses expected to retire within the next three years. New Jersey is also expected to face a shortage of 2,800 physicians by the year 2020.

That is why I am very proud that my Health Workforce Investment Act, which is aimed at cultivating qualified health care professionals through incentives, was incorporated into the legislation that became law last week. This provision will establish new federal oversight and grant funding opportunities that will help us make sure we have the professionals necessary to improve the way health care is administered and delivered.

I'm looking forward to these and many other benefits that will take root for New Jersey residents through this historic legislation. College graduates will enter into a better job market as health care coverage will be more affordable for more than 221,000 New Jersey small businesses. Seniors will enjoy a better quality of life as 1.1 million Medicare beneficiaries in New Jersey will enjoy greater security in their Medicare benefits, including closing the "doughnut hole" gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage.

This new law is reconnecting us with some basic principles of right and wrong that we expect from health care in America. On that level, we are all winners. Far from government control, health care change will precipitate more competition in the insurance marketplace, and that's a sure winner for us.


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