More New Jersey parents eligible for SCHIP

The measure does not, however, penalize families whose children remain uninsured.

Posted Aug. 4, 2008

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A New Jersey statute that broadens access to public health insurance for parents and mandates coverage for children also is intended to lay the groundwork for universal coverage in the state.

Under the measure, signed by Gov. Jon Corzine on July 7, parents with incomes of 133% to 200% of the federal poverty level now are eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The mandate that children have some form of insurance will take effect in July 2009. But the act does not penalize families with children who remain uninsured.

"It's a soft mandate," said Suzanne Esterman, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Dept. of Human Services.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Vitale didn't want to include penalties because he is concerned about insurance costs, said Laurie Cancialosi, his chief of staff. Vitale, who chairs the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, also wants to study, in advance of considering universal insurance measures in the fall, why people remain uninsured.

The expansion of parents' SCHIP eligibility is an attempt to get more children in the program, because if parents can't sign up, they are less likely to enroll their children, Cancialosi said. Children in families that earn 350% of the poverty level or less are eligible for SCHIP in New Jersey.

The law institutes premiums for parents enrolled in SCHIP who earn between 150% and 200% of the poverty level. The rate will be $32 per month for the first parent and $13.50 for the second. Parents who wish to enroll must already have children in SCHIP or must enroll with them.

The Medical Society of New Jersey and the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics backed the bill. Michael J. Kornett, chief executive of the MSNJ, said the society supports getting more people access to health care but is concerned that there might not be enough funding. "It's nice to create an expectation, but can you follow through?"

The act anticipates that an additional 56,800 parents and 17,100 children will enroll in SCHIP by June 2011 at a total state cost of $64 million.

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