A state senator says he will soon announce plans to require all New Jerseyans to carry medical insurance, but the governor warned that the plan could cost more than $1 billion.
“We are going to announce just after the new year,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We continue to work on the final details of affordability and finance.”
Vitale, the Senate health chairman, has been working on his plans for months. It would require all New Jerseyans to carry medical insurance but keep policies affordable for low-wage earners.
Vitale estimated the plan could cost the state an extra $300 million per year, but Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he’s been told “substantially larger numbers” that could exceed $1 billion per year, thus making the plan difficult to implement.
Vitale and Corzine spoke recently to the New Jersey Primary Care Association that represents groups that help give health care to the uninsured and underserved, including the state’s 19 community health centers and their satellite sites.
About 350,000 people annually use New Jersey’s community health facilities because they either lack health insurance or rely on Medicaid, a federal and state medical program for the poor that many doctors don’t accept for payment.
Statistics show about 45 percent of health center patients lack health insurance and about 80 percent of users are below the federal poverty level.
Typical health center services include internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, geriatrics, laboratory, podiatry, pharmacy, X-ray, dental, and mental health.
The state has about 1.4 million residents without health insurance, or about one in every eight residents.
Massachusetts and Vermont passed universal health insurance coverage last year. Maine was the first state to pass such legislation in 2003. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 10 states have health care reforms plans under review, with more expected to follow.
A recent Rutgers University study found 57 percent of New Jerseyans would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone in the state has health insurance they cannot lose.
“The depth of state residents’ discontent with New Jersey health care and the desire for policy action is striking,” said Joel Cantor, director of Rutgers Center for State Health Policy and a public policy professor.
On the Net:
New Jersey Primary Care Association: http://www.njpca.org/
Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s office: http://www.state.nj.us/governor/
Rutgers Center for State Health Policy: