Three top New Jersey congressional leaders voiced opposition to Governor Chris Christie's plan to dramatically restructure the state's Medicaid program because the draconian cuts would result in the loss of medical care for tens of thousands of state residents. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. on Friday urged the governor to reconsider what is still an ill-defined proposal.
What is known about the proposed cuts to NJ FamilyCare is alarming enough, they said. Christie wants to drastically drop the income eligibility limit for participating from around $2000 a month to just over $400 a month, denying an additional 23,000 parents access to NJ FamilyCare next year. And this is in addition to last year's eligibility changes.
"Governor Christie's plan to take health services away from New Jersey's most vulnerable families is neither humane nor a cost effective way to save money," stated Senator Lautenberg. "We need to make it easier for New Jerseyans to access health care services, not harder. Balancing the budget on the backs of low-income families is unacceptable and I will strongly oppose any proposal that targets the most hard pressed families in our state."
According to Raymond Castro, a Medicaid expert with New Jersey Policy Perspective, the total number of uninsured parents who would be denied health care in FY 2012 would be over 90,000--and that doesn't take into account proposed increases in cost sharing that will inevitably discourage participation.
(Castro's testimony before the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee: http://www.njpp.org/blog/proposed-changes-to-nj-medicaid-program-would-wreak-havoc-on-nj-familycare)
"The state is effectively telling these families to wait until 2014 to get coverage again as part of the new health insurance law," said Senator Menendez. "Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a waiver for getting cancer. Diabetes treatment can't wait for three years. These families will still face the same health threats, just without any health coverage. These are the very families I fought to protect in the CHIP reauthorization, and I hope the governor will reconsider before submitting the plan for approval."
In New Jersey, 916,476 people are enrolled in either Medicaid or FamilyCare, including 668,315 children. By shutting parents out last year, an estimated 18,000 eligible children didn't participate either.
"The FamilyCare program has proven to be a successful and cost effective means of keeping people healthy and saving lives," said Congressman Pallone, who authored the federal law that facilitated the creation of FamilyCare, which extends family coverage to those outside the income eligibility of Medicaid. "The state will pay a heavy price in many ways if these cuts are approved. The costs won't go away. They will just be shifted to emergency rooms and uncompensated care, which we all pay for. Of course, the heaviest cost is a human one."
Medicaid is a federal-state program with equally-shared costs. The governor's plan requires the approval of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The state hasn't sent the waiver application to federal authorities, but the governor still wants to bank the so-called savings in his budget. The congressional leaders urged him to be mindful of the serious implications of the changes he's advocating.