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New Jersey's Efforts in Insuring Children Look to Next Step

New report shows where New Jersey's uninsured reside, where to target.

New Jersey has made big -- and painstaking -- progress in the last couple of years in enrolling children into health insurance.

Now comes the hard part.

Legislators traveled to a Paterson high school yesterday to hold a hearing on the continued plight of uninsured children in New Jersey, a classic good-news-bad-news story in the state’s healthcare history.

The good news, by all accounts yesterday, is the gains that the state has made in enrolling children through the NJ FamilyCare programs. Nearly nearly three times as many children were enrolled in the past year as the three prior years combined.

Yet at nearly 7 percent, the state’s rate of uninsured children remains the highest in Northeast -- roughly 150,000 children younger than 19, according to a new report. And both officials and advocates said despite the state’s best efforts, the challenge now is to reach more isolated populations and communities.

Coogan said as many as half of those 150,000 children are from families where language, citizenship or other barriers need to be broken down.

“We have made a lot of progress, but now we have to find ways to get to these hard-to-reach populations,” said Mary Coogan, assistant director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “And then also how to maintain them in the programs.”

The new report -- entitled “Uninsured Children: Who Are They and Where Do They Live?” -- provides estimates for all 50 states, along with census regions, and shows how the uninsured continue to reside in low-income and/or high-immigrant populations. New Jersey has plenty of both.

Published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, the report shows the disparities in New Jersey -- along some predictable and not-so-predictable lines.

The highest rates of uninsured are in the urban northeast section of the state, including Newark, Bloomfield and Paterson. But even there, some anomalies arise, including an estimated 29 percent rate of uninsured children in the Elizabeth area and above average rates in Sussex and Warren counties, and even northern Bergen County.

New Jersey’s overall rate is well below the national average of 9.4 percent, according to the report, but it sees comparable rates among Hispanic and black children and a slightly higher rate among Asian populations.

Much of the discussion at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate health committee, held at Paterson’s East Side High School, centered on steps that the state can take to improve its outreach and administration, be it through schools, unemployment assistance or other pathways.

“We are certainly not in the position to appropriate more resources, but some of our best legislation is not about money but about process,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex). “For example, there is no reason every school doesn’t have a program that will outreach to families of children who would be eligible to enroll.”

The head of Englewood public schools spoke of the challenges of families in even suburban communities like his own, where the adults can’t read the materials sent home from schools.

“I’m talking about adult literacy,” said Richard Segall, Englewood’s superintendent “What we have in Englewood, Hackensack or any other community with low-income populations, we have adults who don’t have the ability to understand what is being sent home.”

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