By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local

Roughly three percent of Montclair’s population, including 661 children, live below the federal poverty line and are among the state’s most vulnerable population targeted under Gov. Phil Murphy’s healthcare agenda.

At a forum held on April 23 at First Congregational Church, the grassroots progressive group BlueWaveNJ hosted the New Jersey Department of Health’s presentation of the Murphy Administration’s public health and healthcare agenda. In addition to insuring all New Jersey’s 70,000 uninsured children, the agenda includes addressing the opioid crisis and improving access to mental health and addiction treatment, strengthening the individual market for health insurance, protecting consumers from “surprise billing” by out-of-network healthcare providers, improving access to women’s healthcare services and reducing black infant mortality rate and maternal death.

“New Jersey is 48th in the country in the racial disparity with infant mortality rate,” said Jackie Cornell, Principal Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health. “Atlantic City has a rate of 4.8 percent for white women, but 9.7 percent for black women, and maternal death should be a ‘never’ event.”

Murphy restored $7.5 million in funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide women’s healthcare services in February, using a portion of the state health department’s $2.8 billion budget. He also extended Medicaid eligibility for women using family-planning services.

According to the Report of the Healthcare Transition Advisory Committee submitted to Murphy on Jan. 1, New Jersey’s infant mortality gap is the widest in the nation. Currently, the state pays for 42 percent of all births through Medicaid, making it an ideal platform to apply evidence-based practices targeted at health disparities, according to the report.

Insuring the state’s 70,000 uninsured children is a priority. An estimated 35,000 are undocumented, 23,000 are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid, and 12,000 exceed Medicaid’s income cutoff, according to the report.

Two bills awaiting Murphy’s signature would “protect and strengthen Obamacare” in New Jersey, according to Andrew Sprung of BlueWaveNJ. The first bill would establish in individual mandate to replace the federal mandate repealed by Congress. The second bill calls for federal funding for a reinsurance program. Together, the bills would reduce premiums by 20 to 30 percent. The mandate would stem premium hikes forecasted by the Congressional Budget Office, as a result of the federal mandate repeal. Revenue from a state mandate would pay for the reinsurance program, with the federal government likely picking up more than half the cost, since reduced premiums reduces federal subsidies.

“We’re concerned about premiums,” said Sprung. “If one third of the state is Medicaid eligible, how do we make it more accessible and affordable?”

Cornell noted that the federal government reduced funding for outreach “navigators” who helped sign people up for individual healthcare. “They helped to educate the public, in 17 different languages, explaining all the options. It was like Affordable Care Act (ACA) 101,” said Cornell, noting that the administration will work on outreach.

Medicaid is the largest source of federal funding for New Jersey, providing the state with $15 billion annually and used by nearly 1.8 million residents, including 552,000 who gained coverage through the ACA Medicaid expansion. The program covers 40 percent of New Jersey children, 42 percent of births and 65 percent of nursing home care.

To address the opioid issue, a $100 million budget for 2019 will include $56 million for prevention, treatment and recovery, $31 million to address social risk factors, and $13 for infrastructure and data. Integrating physical and behavioral health services was recommended in the report.      

“We have to focus on what we know works by evaluating programs, data and metrics, so we’re not just throwing money at them,” Cornell said.