Murphy team urges governor to end your surprise medical bills, give all kids health care

NJ.com | 1/28/18

By Susan K. Livio

 

New Jersey finally should pass a law protecting patients from “out-of-network” insurance bills that often surprise patients, and help families by creating a child care tax credit and a universal health care program for children, advisers to Gov. Phil Murphy say.

The 11-day-old Murphy administration released reports submitted by the 14 transition teams that studied various state programs and departments and recommended improvements. What Murphy will do with these suggestions is an open question.

The Murphy administration thanked the members of the governor’s transition teams in a press release on Friday but made no other comment on the recommendations.

“These reports are purely advisory and do not reflect the positions of the Governor-Elect or any other elected official,” the reports said.

State lawmakers are wasting no time moving ahead on some of the proposals.

The Assembly Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee is scheduled to meet Monday morning to discuss how the state should address the problem of surprise billing that can happen when patients get teams of doctors and some may not be in their insurance networks.

Newly-appointed Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, the former chairman of the committee, is the sponsor of the stalled legislation.

“This has been a top priority of mine for years,” Coughlin said Friday. “I have every intention of moving this bill as quickly as possible so we get it to the governor’s desk and it can become law. The people of New Jersey have waited way too long for this relief.”

The Health Transition Committee also recommended the creation of a child care tax credit, modeling it after the laws in 23 states that offer the benefit.

“Over 400,000 children under the age of six live in families in which all parents work, yet child care is out of reach for the majority of these families in New Jersey,” according to the report. “A typical family in New Jersey with two children pays over $21,000 annually in child care costs, or a quarter of the average family’s pre-tax income.”

The $1.8 billion child care industry in New Jersey deserves the state’s support, the report said. It employs some 51,000 people.

The health transition committee also urged Murphy to develop a plan within 100 days to extend health coverage to New Jersey’s 70,000 uninsured children within four years. Half of those children are not legal immigrants, the report noted.

“The uninsured rate for Latino children is three times higher than for white children. Eliminating health disparities for children in our state is critical to ensuring long-term health, education and economic opportunity,” according to the report. “There are clear benefits to insuring children, as it increases graduation rates, creates better health outcomes, including lower obesity and high-blood pressure rates, lowers teen pregnancy rates, and increases economic security for children and their families.”

The proposal will cost the state money, but the authors do not estimate how much.

Sen. Joseph Vitale D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, endorsed the recommendation. The state should jump-start the effort by enrolling every uninsured newborn into Medicaid, he said.

“We would catch many more children that way,” he added.

The Human and Children Services Transition Advisory Committee also recommended:

* Returning the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services from the Department of Health to the Department of Human Services. Former Gov. Chris Christie made this move months before he left, arguing drug addiction is a disease and the state should manage it like one. The team did recommend, however, the health department keep the licensing responsibilities for mental health providers.

* Studying and recommending changes to the 21-year-old welfare reform law.

* Distributing the $20 million in the budget intended to raise the pay of people from community agencies who work with children and people with developmental disabilities. The average worker earns $10.50 to $11 an hour.

The Healthcare Transition Advisory Committee also recommended:

  * Restoring the $7.5 million in grants Christie eliminated for family planning clinics, including a prorated amount for the current fiscal year. Murphy has pledged to restore this funding. A bill restoring the money was approved by the Senate health committee Thursday, and is on the Assembly Health Committee’s agenda Monday. 

The committee also suggested paying back the $56 million that clinics lost during Christie’s  “as budget allows.”

 * Using state money to operate syringe exchange programs in municipalities that want them. Local governments and private donations have supported programs, although Camden’s program closed and Paterson’s was struggling until new management took over, Vitale said.

“This would be big. A lot of them struggle,” Vitale said.