The state will invest more than $800,000 in a campaign to expand insurance coverage among low-income residents as part of New Jersey’s first administration-led push to educate the public about their options under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Phil Murphy joined a quartet of cabinet members and congressional representatives in Trenton on Tuesday to unveil the public outreach effort connected to the ACA’s annual enrollment period, which begins November 1, Thursday, and runs through December 15.
The initiative involves a new promotional website, GetCovered.NJ.gov, with links to existing state and federal enrollment portals, outreach through state agencies, and a grassroots campaign with nonprofit partners to connect residents with coverage and, if possible, subsidies. It reflects a sharp departure from the past — former Gov. Chris Christie declined to embrace the ACA, the 2014 law also known as Obamacare, and left most outreach efforts to federal agencies and community groups.
“Today we are thrilled — and I say that with every bit of passion I can muster — to finally stand here in 2018 in partnership with the state of New Jersey,” said Maura Collinsgru, healthcare program director for Citizen Action, a longtime champion of the law. “For five years, New Jersey’s administration had been absent from the efforts to enroll people in the Affordable Care Act and the quality health care programs available with that law.”
Combating the Trump administration
The Get Covered campaign is just the latest action taken on a pledge Murphy made during his campaign to do more to support the ACA and expand its reach in the Garden State. In January, he signed Executive Order #4, which required relevant state agencies to develop plans for promoting the act and open enrollment — and triggered the collaborative initiative announced Tuesday.
In May, the governor signed two laws designed to shore up the insurance market, which experts said contributed to a 9.3 percent premium decline in individual-market policies for next year and could lead to another 15 percent cut in costs for 2020 plans. One bill created a state-based “individual mandate,” or income-tax penalty for those who could afford coverage but did not purchase it; its purpose is to replace a similar federal requirement that will expire this year. The second law formed a reinsurance program to offset the cost of the highest claims, stocked with $218 million in federal funds.
“This work was critical to combat the Trump Administration, whose action to undermine the ACA has left states no other choice but to take the lead in insuring the protections provided by the ACA are maintained and that residents have access to quality health care,” said Marlene Caride, the Department of Banking and Insurance commissioner. “Open enrollment begins on Thursday, and for the first time since the implementation of the ACA, New Jersey is all in.”
President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have targeted the ACA for repeal and reform. While their attempts to eliminate it have failed so far, the law remains a focus for many conservatives who claim it is driving up the cost of healthcare and overburdening taxpayers. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), who joined Murphy’s team for Tuesday’s event, stressed that these attacks will continue.
Menendez: The law is under threat
“All these things we did under the Affordable Care Act are under threat,” said Menendez, one of the authors of the law. “And I think that the more people that sign up, the more difficult it is to make that threat a reality.”
Since 2014, Obamacare has helped some 800,000 uninsured New Jerseyans obtain health coverage; at least 500,000 were added to the state’s Medicaid or NJ FamilyCare program and another 300,000 have purchased coverage through the state’s individual market, which was revamped through the law to provide more complete, lower-cost policies. Caride said eight in 10 of these buyers have received federal funding to offset their costs.
Studies show that uninsured rates in the Garden State have dropped to 8.7 percent of those under 65, as of 2017, from nearly 15 percent in 2013, before the ACA took full effect. DOBI estimates some 700,000 Garden State residents still lack coverage, according to a report the agency compiled in response to Murphy’s executive order, and advocates believe at least 10 percent of these are children.
Participants in the kickoff event said this gap is due in part to the lack of initiative Christie showed for the ACA and continuing confusion over the law’s status, thanks to ongoing attacks on the program in Washington, D.C. In fact, DOBI said participation declined in the individual market last year for the first time in years, a change Caride and others blamed in part on more than $90 million in funding cuts for advertising and enrollment support over the past two years.
Website, outreach, promotions
Murphy said he did not have a specific enrollment target for the upcoming six-week sign-up period, but the goal is to reach people who have been particularly challenging to sign up. “I don’t have a goal, but I’d love to be able to say, conceptually or at least generally, that we’ve turned that needle back the other way and made up some ground,” the governor said.
The state’s campaign involves $450,000 — comprised of funding from DOBI, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services — to conduct outreach, advertise the open enrollment period, and other promotions. Officials have created a suite of public materials for agencies to share at health-related events. Information will also be included with tax forms and at state Motor Vehicle Commission offices, among other locations.
The website — with a countdown clock tracking the time left to sign up, down to the second — includes links to the federal healthcare.gov website, which New Jersey uses for individuals seeking coverage through the subsidized marketplace, and to state portals for Medicaid. It also features a list of frequently asked questions, links to the nonprofit navigators working to help consumers face-to-face, and other resources to help residents better understand their options under the law.
In addition, the DHS will distribute $375,000 to five community organizations to help fund their grassroots outreach, which will be targeted toward traditionally hard-to-reach communities. As well as working to get eligible residents enrolled in Medicaid, the department has created systems that will help connect those who do not qualify for the public health insurance program with other options, including the individual ACA marketplace, and potential sources of subsidies to offset the cost of these plans.
(The organizations that will receive $75,000 each include: The Center for Family Services, in Camden; The Family Resource Network, of Hamilton; The Oranges ACA Navigator Project; Fulfill Monmouth and Ocean; and The Urban League of Hudson County.)
“From day one, my administration committed to protecting the Affordable Care Act in New Jersey against President Trump’s efforts to tear it down. We are proving the ACA works but we cannot let up,” Murphy said. “We want to ensure residents don’t miss the six-week window to enroll, that they get the financial assistance they are due, and that they know where to go to if they need help along the way. New Jerseyans are counting on us to do what the federal government won’t.”