New Jersey could forfeit $7.6 million in federal funds that might be used to help get the uninsured covered under the Affordable Care Act unless it submits a plan for use of the money to the government by Feb. 20, according to a report released Wednesday by the Trenton think-tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.
During a press conference Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-West Windsor) said the Christie administration "has been nothing but obstinate in not claiming this money in time to get the full benefit" of these funds.
The $7.6 million is left over from a planning grant New Jersey received several years ago when it was considering creating a state-run exchange where people would buy subsidized health plans under the ACA. New Jersey opted instead to use the federal exchange, at healthcare.gov.
Marshall McKnight, a spokesman for the state Department of Banking and Insurance, said, "DOBI continues to talk with (the federal Department of Health and Human Services) on appropriate use of these funds."
"There are a lot of people still out of the system who are at greater risk of having a worse quality of life, and of illness and death. We want people in the system. We should use the funding available to try to get people into the system," Holt said.
Holt said he has written repeatedly to Christie, beginning last summer "to urge the state to take advantage of the $7.6 million and I would say supplement that with state funds to get the largest participation rate we can."
"It's hard to imagine the state actually returning these funds to the federal government when the need is so great. With over one million uninsured residents in New Jersey, it's absolutely critical that the state use these funds for outreach and education," said NJPP senior policy analyst and report author Raymond Castro. "Reducing the number of uninsured not only makes New Jersey healthier and more productive, it benefits taxpayers because it could reduce state costs for charity care in hospitals and for mental health and substance abuse treatment. It just makes sense to do this."
In its report, NJPP estimated that $7.6 million could be used for outreach to get up 95,000 New Jerseyans covered.
"Given the most recent polls confirming that half the uninsured remain unaware of their options, failing to use these funds for outreach to help educate and enroll New Jersey's uninsured would mark a new direction for the Christie administration – one where the governor is actively obstructing consumers' access to the ACA benefits they need," said Maura Collinsgru, Health Policy Advocate with NJ Citizen Action.
The full report, embedded below, is also available at the NJPP website.