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Advocates rally in Newark to promote outreach campaign for health coverage

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Advocates want Chris Christie to use an unspent federal grant on getting the word out to the poor about how they can receive coverage on the coming health exchange.
Advocates want Chris Christie to use an unspent federal grant on getting the word out to the poor about how they can receive coverage on the coming health exchange. - (NJBIZ file)

A coalition of health policy advocates rally this afternoon in Newark today to urge Gov. Chris Christie to spend $7.6 million in federal funds on an outreach campaign to help the state's nearly 1 million uninsured find out how to get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Starting Oct. 1, thousands of low- and moderate-income Jerseyans will be eligible for federal subsidies to help them afford the new health plans the state's health insurers will sell, effective Jan. 1, on the new online marketplace the federal government is will launch for New Jersey. And thousands will be eligible in 2014 for free health coverage from Medicaid, which is undergoing a huge expansion under the ACA.

The $7.6 million is an unspent grant the state Department of Banking and Insurance received from the federal government to plan a state-run marketplace. Since New Jersey opted against creating its own marketplace, the funds have not been spent, and a DOBI spokesman said previously that the state was talking to the federal Department of Health and Human Services about how those funds should be used.

In a statement following the rally, Ray Castro, a senior policy analyst with New Jersey Policy Perspective, said, "As a result of the governor’s decision to opt out of a state-based exchange, New Jersey will lose millions of dollars in federal aid for outreach. Now, unless he acts quickly, the governor risks not only losing much needed money, he risks leaving hundreds of thousands of struggling working New Jerseyans uninformed and uninsured."

Ray Ocasio, executive director of La Casa de Don Pedro, said, "With the lack of familiarity many Latinos and low-income wage earners have with the American health care system, language barriers, and the insufficient availability of information about the upcoming changes under the ACA, many in Latino communities may be left out, even though a large number of them will be eligible for insurance based on their income levels."

DOBI spokesman Marshall McKnight said today "we are still in talks" with HHS about how the money can be used.

Groups that said they will be at the rally include New Jersey Citizen Action, the nonprofit social service group La Casa de Don Pedro, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence New Jersey, the Communications Workers of America Local 1081, the Main Street Alliance, NJPIRG and the Mount Carmel Guild of Catholic Charities.

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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