What Do You Want to Know about Medicaid in NJ? New Website Has Answers

Lilo H. Stainton | September 12, 2018 | Health Care
Data Dashboard, open to all, is aimed at making information more accessible and should help with decisions about allocating funds

medicaid patients
Healthcare advocates, policy organizations, government officials, and curious patients can better explore public data related to New Jersey’s Medicaid program, thanks to a website the state has established to improve the transparency and operation of the system.

The state Department of Human Services, which oversees New Jersey’s Medicaid (or NJ FamilyCare) program, has launched the first version of its NJ FamilyCare Data Dashboard, a website officials said will be continuously updated and outfitted with new features in the weeks and months to come.

The interactive site currently includes FamilyCare enrollment data, broken down by age, sex, county and program type; enrollment trends dating back to 2014; and a timeline of key policy changes. The data allows those interested in public policy to better understand how the program has grown and changed over the years, who participants are and where they live — information that can help officials focus funding and other resources or adjust elements of the Medicaid program.

Additional pages contain information on health-plan coverage — 95 percent of patients are now in managed-care plans — long-term care use, clinical assessment data, and consumer satisfaction surveys.

“Our intent with this new site is to bring greater transparency to the state’s Medicaid program,” DHS commissioner Carole Johnson said. “Over time users will be able to access timely and in-depth information on this vital program for our state. The more information we can make available about this important program, the better.”

Better data, better quality

The FamilyCare program covers more than 1.7 million New Jersey residents, roughly one in five citizens, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has pledged to modernize and improve the program through better data analysis and quality-improvement protocols. Nearly half the program’s participants are under age 18 and more than one-third live in Essex, Hudson or Passaic counties.

While detailed enrollment data and other information have been available through the DHS’s website dating back to 2005, new numbers were released monthly in four-page documents that made analysis challenging. The data is used by healthcare researchers, foundations, and others to gauge the impact of Medicaid coverage on New Jersey residents and plan and recommend reforms; providers and insurance companies use it to plan care programs and network coverage. (No names, addresses or personal claims information is made public through these efforts.)

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The dashboard has received a thumbs-up from Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, which has advocated for greater access to public data in “Medicaid 2.0 Blueprint for the Future,” its recommendations for improvements published in 2017, and a national survey of public Medicaid data programs released in March.

“This is a great tool for the public and policy makers — real time data eligibility and enrollment data that allows users to see on a county-by-county basis where the state’s Medicaid population lives; how it’s comprised in terms of children and adults, both disabled and elderly, and which health plans the beneficiaries are enrolled in, (plus) historical data that shows Medicaid eligibility and enrollment trends,” Schwimmer said.

Help to identify gaps in Medicaid coverage

According to the Quality Institute survey, some of the most effective programs — like websites in Massachusetts and California — allow users to identify which residents are getting left out of Medicaid coverage; they can do this by comparing income data from the U.S. Census Bureau or other sources that shows income eligibility and actual Medicaid enrollment numbers. Initiatives in South Carolina and Oklahoma also make public what Medicaid spends on certain treatments or procedures, enabling policymakers to spot trends or cost anomalies.

Schwimmer said she looks forward to collaborating with the state to expand the data available through the FamilyCare dashboard, including making available figures on Medicaid spending, by patient, or region, or treatment, and information on what healthcare services are used, who is getting this care, and where they live. Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the health committee chairman, has also pushed legislation calling for greater disclosure of Medicaid use data. DHS officials said yesterday the website’s features would be expanded over time, with several set to be added in the next phase.

“We’re thrilled to offer this service to New Jersey residents,” said Meghan Davey, director of the DHS division of medical assistance and health services, which oversees Medicaid. “NJ FamilyCare is an invaluable program that provides a wide-range of health care services, and we’re excited to continue to work to bring this type of easy-to-navigate transparency to the program.”

The initiative is one of several the Murphy administration has launched since taking office in January to improve the Medicaid program, which is funded by a mix of state and federal dollars. The state has also expanded the program’s coverage of smoking cessation efforts, diabetes prevention programs, autism services, family planning and end-of-life care.

“The Murphy Administration is committed to a healthier New Jersey,” Johnson said. “These policy changes and our new transparency tools are part of our efforts to improve the health of New Jerseyans while being responsible stewards of the Medicaid program.”