Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor
Another 16,000 children can now get health care coverage regardless of their immigration status, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday at an event highlighting the state’s Jan. 1 expansion of its Medicaid program.
The expansion is the newest phase of the “Cover All Kids” initiative intended to provide access to health care to all New Jerseyans under 19 years old. The Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid, has set aside $11 million in the budget to pay for the initiative.
“This is not just the right thing to do morally, but it is the right thing to do for the future health of our state in all the forms that health takes,” Murphy said at a press conference in Morristown. “Moreover, investing in regular and consistent health care coverage is an investment in peace of mind.”
The initiative launched in July 2021. By the end of 2022, the Department of Human Services had enrolled more than 47,000 children, many of whom had access to health insurance for the first time, Murphy said.
To be eligible, families must earn less than 355% of the federal poverty level, which represents $8,210 per month for a family of four.
The application for the state’s Medicaid program, NJ FamilyCare, will remain the same for the newly eligible children, as will the insurance coverage, regardless of applicants’ immigration status, said Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman.
People can also call 1-800-701-0710 to complete their application with a health benefits coordinator, or search online for face-to-face assistance.
Use of the program will not be considered a public charge, so it will not affect a family’s chance of applying for a green card, the Murphy administration said.
Adelman touted the state’s efforts to remove barriers to “getting and keeping coverage.” The state eliminated premiums for children and did away with a 90-day waiting period for coverage that left people unprotected while waiting.
Adelman also highlighted partnerships with the Treasury Department to use tax filing information to reach out to families with uninsured children, and with the Department of Education to identify uninsured students during enrollment.
About 3.5% of children were uninsured in New Jersey in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“How we care for our children is a reflection of our values, and it is a fiscally responsible decision because investing in the health of children, particularly in primary care, pays dividends over their lifetimes. It makes our families and our communities healthier and stronger,” Adelman said.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) on Wednesday talked about taking her daughter to the doctor for a sore throat.
“Then I put myself in the lens of a woman in my neighborhood, doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t have access to health care, may not have the $10 in her pocket for the co-pay. She ends up in the emergency room, and what does that do?” she said. “It doesn’t fundamentally get to the care of making our children healthy in a long-term way.”
Ruiz spoke in Spanish, informing Latinos without health care that now is the time to apply and invest in their health.
Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, noted that families seeking to be immigrants often must save money for expensive naturalization applications or DACA renewals. With the expansion of insurance access, Torres said, health care costs are one less thing migrant families have to worry about.
“Racial disparities continue to persist in New Jersey, and by providing coverage for our kids in these early years of their lives, we are making bold strides to begin addressing these gaps,” said Torres.
The work is not over, Torres added, as future governors must ensure the program continues to receive funding as immigrant communities grow.
Murphy suggested that similar programs will appear in his budget proposal, which he is set to unveil in early March.
“You can bet that this commitment to the health of every child in New Jersey will be written in black and white,” he said.