Better Choices, Better Care NJ is a 501(c)4 public education project advocating for innovative ways to improve health, transform care, and lower health care costs.
New Jerseyans continue to struggle every day with the cost of rising health care. Their premium and out-of-pocket costs go up, but they do not feel they are receiving better quality of care. More tests and procedures are done, more bills are sent, but better outcomes are not created. This is despite the fact that hospitals are consolidating and forming new partnerships, technology and data are altering how care is delivered, and new procedures are being introduced as the next great breakthrough. High-tech sensors will provide at-home monitoring of patients’ hearts, while new technologies will allow for full body scans that can check for a variety of symptoms without actually poking or intruding patients, all in a matter of seconds.  But despite these miraculous advances, residents and businesses are still faced with an inefficient, costly and difficult to navigate health care system that results in high insurance premiums.
There are several reasons why New Jersey health care costs are so high, including that New Jersey currently operates under a “fee-for-service” health care system. Under this kind of system, good doctors are forced to see as many patients as possible in order to make up for declining reimbursement from health insurers. This means doctors are paid based on how many patients they see, not on keeping patients healthy. New Jersey has some of the greatest doctors in the world, but the current system does not allow them to spend quality time determining how best to keep patients healthy.
It is more than just that though. Consumers are frustrated by a system bogged down in health care jargon, surprise billing, and guidelines and policies that require a team of lawyers to decipher. They do not understand their bills, what their health care options are, or what questions to ask their doctors. At the end of the day, they just want a system that provides quality care at an affordable price.
Through public forums, academic research, and direct outreach to constituents and their elected representatives, Better Choices, Better Care NJ will help consumers, employers, and elected representatives examine, understand and harness the changing health care landscape to create the best outcomes possible for New Jersey.
Better Choices, Better Care NJ Leadership
Christine Stearns, Esq
Executive Director, Better Choices, Better Care NJ
Christine Stearns is a Director in the Government Affairs group and Administrative Director of the Trenton Office for at Gibbons, P.C., she has been selected by NJBIZ as one of the “50 Most Powerful People in Health Care in New Jersey” seven times and included on NJ Spotlight‘s list of “Top 10 Healthcare Lobbyists in New Jersey”. Ms. Stearns most recently served as Vice President of Health & Legal Affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. In her role at Gibbons, she provides strategic counsel to an array of clients on regulatory and legislative issues, with a focus on healthcare matters. She also serves on the board of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a nonprofit foundation working to ensure quality, accountability, and cost containment in New Jersey, and on the board of Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, south Jersey’s oldest and largest hospice.
Ms. Stearns is an attorney with a wide range of political and legislative experience who began her career with Princeton Public Affairs, where she worked with a wide range of clients to develop and implement legislative and regulatory strategies. In 2005, she co-chaired the Governor of New Jersey’s Health Care and Senior Service Policy Group, which advised the Governor during the gubernatorial transition.
Eric Boyce has spent over 35 years advocating for the rights of working people. He currently serves as the Assistant Administrator of the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Plan, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Previously, Eric served as the Business Manager for Plumbers Local 24. He has also served as Co-Chairman of the New Jersey Alliance for Action in Hudson County, as a member of the New Jersey State Building Trades Council Executive Board, Treasurer and President of the Hudson County Building Trades Council, and a member of the Hudson County Workforce Investment Board. Eric is most proud of his work with public agencies, non-profits, and the public and private sectors to create workforce training programs and job opportunities for countless individuals. He is a widely respected voice among the organized labor community in New Jersey, especially with regard to how health care impacts the industry.
Veteran businessman Thomas A. Bracken is the Chairman of Forward New Jersey as well as President and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce since February of 2011, when he took the reins of the state’s business advocacy organization as it celebrated its 100th year.
Bracken has had a long history with the Chamber and the business community. The Skillman resident served as chairman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors from 2005 to 2007, and has been involved with the Chamber for more than 30 years.
He has four decades of experience in the banking and financial services industry, serving previously as president of TriState Capital Bank’s New Jersey operation, based in Princeton.
Bracken joined TriState Capital Bank, which serves mid-market businesses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey, in January 2008. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of Sun Bancorp, Inc. from 2001 to 2007. He also held executive positions with First Union Bank and Corestates Financial Corporation. He is a former chairman of the Economic Development Corporation of Trenton and a former chairman of the New Jersey Bankers Association.
Bracken, a Bucknell graduate, is currently chairman of the New Jersey Alliance for Action Foundation; a board member for Public Media NJ, the subsidiary of WNET that runs NJTV and a member of the Board of South Jersey Industries, Inc. and Solix, Inc.
Lizette Delgado-Polanco is the Political Director for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters (NRCC). The NRCC represents nearly 40,000 hardworking men and women in Delaware and New Jersey and portions of Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. NRCC is one of the largest trade unions on the East Coast.
Prior to joining the NRCC, Delago-Polanco was the Executive Director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) New Jersey State Council. The SEIU NJ Council coordinates the legislative and political agenda for over 40,000 members in NJ across four major industries. She has also served as a principal for D-Solutions, which is a government relations and business development firm. In 2001, Delgado-Polanco successfully led Governor McGreevey’s statewide Latino base voters program. In 2002, she was named the Assistant Secretary of State, becoming one of the highest ranking Hispanics in the state government. In this position, she managed a $41 million budget and directed the daily operations of 11 divisions. She has also served as the Director of Special Projects under Senator Jon Corzine.
Ms. Delgado-Polanco sits on several boards, including the NJ Working Families Alliance, Latino Action Network, NJ Citizen Action, Working Families United for NJ, LUPE PAC (Latinas United for Political Empowerment) and Planned Parenthood Action Fund of NJ. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Labor Studies from National Labor College in Maryland.
John E. Harmon, Sr.
John Harmon is the current President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. Harmon is also the founder of the organization. Previously, Harmon was employed at the Bowery Savings Bank in New York City and at Chemical Bank. Prior to his banking background, Mr. Harmon founded a transportation company in 1989, called Harmon Transfer, Corp.
John Harmon is the former President and CEO of the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce (MTAACC). Under his guidance, MTAACC grew its membership substantially, established affiliations with the Mercer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and forged strategic partnerships in the public and private sectors to benefit African American businesses throughout New Jersey.
John Harmon also serves as the Regional Vice President of New York and New Jersey for the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Mr. Harmon is a Board member of The National Black Chamber of Commerce, and The American Chamber of Commerce Executives. Harmon earned his Associate Degree in Business Administration from Mercer County Community College in 1981, and then transferred to Fairleigh Dickinson University where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management in 1983.
Dr. Joyce Nkwonta, MD
Dr. Joyce Nkwonta is a board certified internal medicine practitioner and has been active in clinical practice for over 18 years. She has been practicing in the Plainfield, NJ area since 2005 and is also on staff at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, NJ. She is a fellow of the American College of Physicians.
Dr. Nkwonta completed her Internal Medicine Residency in 1997 from New York Methodist Hospital, which is associated with Cornell University’s Weill Medical College. Afterwards, she spent seven years working in a multi-specialty medical practice.
Dr. Minalkumar A. Patel, MD
Dr. Minalkumar Patel is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. Dr. Patel was formerly the CEO of Care Management International, a care management company he founded in 2006. Dr. Patel also served as the Executive Vice President iHealth Technologies until June 2014. Dr. Patel has served in several executive roles at Horizon BCBS, including President and COO of Horizon Healthcare of New York, and Executive Medical Director for Quality Management and Clinical Innovations.
Dr. Patel graduated from Boston University’s six-year medical program, receiving his Bachelor degree in Medical Sciences and his Doctorate in Medicine in 1995. Dr. Patel joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the medical staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1998. Dr. Patel completed his Masters in Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health in 2000.
Laurel Pickering is the Chief Revenue Officer for WellDoc, which focuses on improving the lives of those living with chronic diseases. Previously, she was President and CEO of Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH). Pickering built and led an employer-led coalition of healthcare leaders and other stakeholders with the mission of empowering members to drive excellence and value in healthcare and patient experience. Pickering worked for Northeast Business Group on health for nearly twenty-five years.
Ms. Pickering is also a board member and former chair of The Leapfrog Group, and served on the Board of National Quality Forum (NQF) and National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH). Regionally, she is Chair of the Board of Directors of the NEBGH subsidiary HealthPass, a health insurance exchange for small businesses.
Ms. Pickering received her BA in Anthropology from SUNY Albany and MPH from Emory University.
Michele Siekerka is currently the President and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), that represents 20,000 businesses comprising over 1-million employees in the state. Siekerka also sits on the Board of Directors of Investors Bank.
Siekerka was previously the Deputy Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. She also served as the assistant commissioner for economic growth and green energy and the assistant commissioner of water resources at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Before her tenure at the Department of Environmental Protection, Siekerka was the President and CEO of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce for six years.
Siekerka obtained her J.S. from Temple University and holds a B.A. in Political Science and Government from Rutgers University.