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Murphy’s Healthcare Budget: Beyond the Headlines

Where does the governor plan on putting the state’s money, and where does he plan on cutting back?

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While new taxes and big spending on things like pensions and transit — and smaller dollars for women’s healthcare — have received the most attention, Gov. Phil Murphy’s new budget also includes allotments for other health and welfare items that reflect his progressive agenda.

Murphy included funding for gun violence research, expanding services for individuals with autism and other disabilities, supporting staff serving some of the state’s most vulnerable families, and improving the state medical examiner’s office, which critics contend is under-resourced and overwhelmed.

“Congress has refused to fund such necessary research for over two decades. It is now up to the states to lead. This investment will start this long-overdue process,” Murphy said of the investment in gun-violence research during his budget speech Tuesday.

“When we formed States for Gun Safety, I recognized the critical need for the data-driven research we need to enact better public policy. Working together with our partner states, we’re taking that approach,” Murphy said of the alliance he formed last month with the governors of New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, following the shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Democratic governor, who took office two months ago, also cut back on spending for several programs that officials said were pet projects for former Gov. Chris Christie or lawmakers, enabling him to shift the money to new priorities. Among the items slated for reductions are wage increases for direct-care professionals who work in various roles for the state and money for Federally Qualified Health Clinics, which care for some of the poorest residents.

Not set in stone

None of this is set in stone, however, since state lawmakers must approve the $37.4 billion spending proposal by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. Democrats, who control the Legislature, showed limited enthusiasm for Murphy’s plan, suggesting they would review it carefully. Republicans blasted the package for the tax hikes involved.

When it comes to healthcare, the governor’s plan calls for spending more than $700 million on hospital aid and an additional $100 million to address opioid addiction, which contributed to nearly 2,000 deaths last year. He also included $7.5 million to boost funding for Planned Parenthood and other community clinics to support women’s and family healthcare — money that Christie declined to include during the eight years he was governor.

In addition, Murphy called for the following budget increases for next fiscal year:

  • $19.8 million for community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities, to help them live as independently as possible and continue an ongoing transition from institutional settings to local residences;

  • $8.5 million to expand autism services, specifically to implement a comprehensive suite of programs for Medicaid-eligible youth with the disorder;

  • $3 million to improve the fleet of vehicles used by caseworkers in the Department of Children and Families, which handles foster care and investigates reports of abuse and neglect;

  • $2.44 million to pay for expanded Medicaid coverage for family-planning services, which are now available to individuals who earn up to 200 percent of the poverty line; Murphy changed the law, which had previously capped benefits at 138 percent of FPL, when he signed two bills to benefit women’s care in February;

  • $2 million for the Center on Gun Violence Research, funding a bipartisan multistate initiative Murphy launched in February; the governor also used his budget to call for increases to firearm registration fees, which he said have not been updated in five decades;

  • $1.03 million to support growth of New Jersey’s Early Intervention Program, which funds county-based outreach and services for families with youngsters who may be struggling with autism and other disabilities;

  • $500,000 for the state’s medical examiner system, which Murphy conceded was only a start;

  • $500,000 to expand the state’s prescription-monitoring system, which allows providers to screen patients’ records to curb doctor-shopping and other aspects of opioid abuse;

Murphy also called for cuts to a number of Christie-era initiatives, including trimming more than $102 million from opioid addiction programs. Other reductions include:

  • $20 million less for wage increases for direct-support professionals in state health and welfare programs; low wages, and the turnover and other problems that result, have been a perennial problem for these initiatives, critics note;

  • $10 million from the Cooper Cancer Center, a Camden-based joint effort by Cooper University Health and MD Anderson that serves South Jersey;

  • $7 million for funding care-management organizations operated as part of the Department of Children and Families;

  • $7 million from a lead-testing program that targeted schools; Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the acting commissioner at the Department of Health, has said addressing lead poisoning is a priority for him;

  • $5.5 million from a fund to assist with Medicaid accreditation for certain residential treatment facilities;

  • $5 million less for multidisciplinary teams that work in child advocacy;

  • $5 million from a palliative-care pilot program at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck;

  • $2 million less for the state’s nearly two dozen Federally Qualified Health Centers; these facilities are also facing a reduction in one of their federal funding streams.

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