Healthcare advocates worried about the potential destruction of the federal Affordable Care Act plan to call directly on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to protect health coverage in the annual budget scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday.
Patient activists expect hundreds of people to rally in Trenton on Monday in an effort focus attention on the governor’s role in preserving the gains made under the ACA, which enabled some 800,000 Garden State residents to obtain health insurance and expanded regulatory protections to millions of other policyholders. The event is scheduled for noon on the State House steps and will include remarks from healthcare, labor, and social justice leaders, as well as patients.
Advocates would like to see Christie include additional funding in the spending plan that will take effect July to help protect the nearly 500,000 residents who gained coverage under the Medicaid expansion portion of the ACA. They fear that pressure from national Republicans and President Donald Trump to repeal and replace the landmark law could leave the state without the roughly $3 billion the federal government now provides for their care.
“At a minimum we’d hope to see funding for all healthcare coverage programs maintained,” said Maura Collinsgru, the healthcare program director with NJ Citizen Action. “However, given the governor’s support of Republican repeal plans that would cut funding for these essential programs, the question is, will we see an increase in healthcare funding in the governor’s proposed budget to make up for the loss of federal funds?”
“He must speak out against these policies that would have a devastating impact on the people of New Jersey,” added Collinsgru. She also helps lead the NJ For Healthcare Coalition, an alliance of some 75 groups — labor unions, business leaders, and advocates for the poor, among others — that has worked to coordinate the advocacy efforts.
The state plans to spend roughly $4 billion in the current budget year for its Medicaid program, NJ FamilyCare, which covers some 1.7 million Garden State residents. While much of this is covered by federal dollars, healthcare costs for poor and working-poor residents remain a significant annual expense.
Trump has made repealing and replacing the ACA his priority and took action to reduce the impact of the law on his first day in office. But while Congressional Republicans have been eager to overhaul the program for years, and a few options for reform have been examined, there has not been consensus on a solution.
This process has become more complicated for the GOP by an uprising of citizens concerned about their healthcare. In New Jersey, the Healthcare Coalition has worked with other advocacy groups to underscore the issue for the state’s Republican Congressmen, resulting in weekly vigils at their district offices and raucous town halls.
While Christie has not spoken on the issue at length, he has expressed support for one proposal under discussion in Washington: a switch to block-grant funding, in which states would get a set amount of money each year, as opposed to dollars tied to the number of people who enroll in Medicaid each year. Christie has said block grants would allow states greater flexibility, but advocates are concerned the state could loose hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, depending on how the block grants are calculated.
A report released by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank that is part of the coalition, suggests a full repeal could leave New Jersey with a multibillion dollar budget hole. It could also endanger the lives of hundreds of patients and could leave as many as 800 vulnerable to death over the coming 12 years. Tens of thousands of jobs would also be in danger, as healthcare spending shrank statewide, the group found.
Advocates note that a block-grant system doesn’t just endanger the Medicaid patients who are part of the ACA expansion program, but could destabilize the funding for other aspects of the program. Less funding and an erosion of the regulatory protections attached to the ACA could endanger other reform efforts that have created more flexible, cost-efficient care for the tens of thousands of residents with disabilities, they have said.
Collinsgru said the group will call on Christie to “withdraw his support for the Republican repeal plan” and include protections for these services in the upcoming budget, which must be approved by the Legislature by June 30. Other speakers are to include Reverend Charles Boyer, Salvation and Social Justice; Ann Towmey, president, Health Professionals and Allied Employees; Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey director, Communications Workers of America District 1; Renee Koubiadis, executive director, New Jersey Anti-Poverty Network; and Jessica Edwards, SEIU regional vice president.