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Thursday, June 9, 2011

NJ Governor tries to reduce Medicaid eligibility

Eileen Falk

Staff Writer

Apparently, a New Jersey family of three with an income of $5,500 a year is making too much money to qualify for financial help with health care.

Here’s the back-story: Last week, Governor Christie proposed cutting the maximum income to qualify for Medicaid from $24,645 to an absurdly low $5,317 for a family of three, a whopping one-fifth of the current rate.

These cuts would mean families of three earning as little as $103 a week would no longer be eligible for Medicaid. Although children would not lose eligibility for coverage, around 23,000 New Jersey parents and other adults could lose coverage.

According to Ray Castro at New Jersey Policy Perspective, these new cuts would mean that a family would need to have an income that is one-third of the poverty level to qualify for aid, and an uninsured parent who works full- or even half-time for minimum wage would not even be eligible.

Of course, denying insurance to the poorest and neediest residents will only cause rates to go up for those who can afford care. New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee Chair Louis Greenwald noted, "Those 23,000 people are going to get sick this year. Where are you suggesting they're going to go?”

Cutting tens of thousands of the most vulnerable and poorest working adults from health coverage programs will only cause strife for thousands of families and will ultimately end up costing the state more when those same people end up sick ,uninsured, and in need of hospital visits that they cannot afford. To pay for this, insured Americans will be charged more money, causing health care premiums to rise and ensuring that fewer Americans can afford health care—perpetuating a cycle of less access and increased costs.

Christie thinks that people will not be hurt by his plan because even those making $5,500 a year (the cost of about two of his $2,500-an-hour helicopter rides, including one to his son’s baseball game) to support three people should have extra money to afford health care without assistance. Sure, they could theoretically afford it—if they went without food or housing.

Furthermore, one can hardly argue, as Christie has, that these cuts will not affect children. If a parent is sick, they will be unable to care for their child physically or financially, especially if medical expenses drain the parent of money that would otherwise go toward food and other essentials that children and families simply need to survive.

Many elected officials in New Jersey do not agree with the proposed cuts. Assemblyman Gary Schaer noted that he was “so very, very troubled by this proposal … It's not government's role to be charity, but it is government's role to provide opportunity. We're taking it away. They can barely survive now."

The path to providing care and saving money is not from programs scaling back coverage, but instead it is ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health care. By doing this, we protect low-income Americans from facing financial ruin to get care, and we protect the insured from having to foot the bill when the uninsured seek the care they need.