Low-income seniors and disabled residents in New Jersey now have a single online entryway to multiple public programs that can help them pay for health insurance, pharmaceuticals and other critical living expenses, including food and home heating.
The state Department of Human Services launched the NJSave electronic application system earlier this month, enabling qualified tech-savvy citizens to access various savings and assistance programs in one sitting. In the past, each program required its own paper application and eligibility assessment.
“This application gives older New Jerseyans, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers a new, easily-accessible way to get the help they need to maintain their health and financial well-being,” said Louise Rush, director of the DHS Division of Aging. Individuals can still enroll on paper and get help by phone.
The shift is one of a number of changes state agencies have recently made to modernize and upgrade the systems they use to enroll and interact with program participants, advocates and the public in general.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Attorney General unveiled NJCares.gov, with statistics on drug use and its impacts. And last week the state Department of Health launched a complementary Opioid Data Dashboard, a searchable tool that includes treatment and hospitalization figures.
System for Medicaid needs more work
The DHS also rolled out a Medicaid Data Dashboard in September, a website that features enrollment statistics, highlights trends dating back to 2014, and links to separate application sites. And NJHelps.org was launched in 2017 to serve as a single point of entry for Medicaid, cash assistance and food stamp programs, although each still requires a separate application.
But still in progress is a single, integrated electronic application system that can automatically connect low-income residents to Medicaid and other income-eligible programs — something that’s been on the state’s to-do list for more than a decade and remains a priority for policy experts and some lawmakers.
“The system that is in place now is a patchwork of county, state and federal social services with electronic processes that vary in their timing and accuracy rates,” said Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), who has led efforts to reform the Medicaid eligibility mechanisms; a bill prompting the DHS to do so passed the Senate in late October but awaits a hearing in the Assembly. “It is inefficient for state and the applicants applying for health coverage,” he said.
DHS officials said efforts are ongoing to modernize the electronic eligibility system for Medicaid, which now covers 1.8 million residents, but there is no timeline or budget for the work. Initial efforts to do so date to 2007 and involve a failed tech contract that cost the state $10 million; the federal government lost more $56 million on the deal.
NJSave, the new senior-services portal, is designed to serve hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, family members and other caregivers who assist them. Visitors can access help to cover drug costs and apply for programs that provide funding for hearing aids, fall-detection devices and Medicare premiums. They can also connect with heating and energy assistance, food stamps and other public support, assuming they meet certain criteria.
Important to streamline the process
“It’s important that seniors across New Jersey are able to access the services and supports for which they’re eligible,” said Stephanie Hunsinger, state director for AARP New Jersey. “Any step that consolidates and simplifies the application process for those services is a step in the right direction, particularly for the 1.1 million family caregivers in our state.”
NJSave programs are open to individuals who are at least 65 years old or receiving Social Security disability payments and live in New Jersey; caregivers can help them to apply. Some programs have income restrictions. The system allows users to fill out applications and create accounts that help them monitor their access; the state also created a video tutorial to help people navigate the process.
“NJSave will help older New Jerseyans and their families with a simpler way to check out the programs and services available to them,” said DHS commissioner Carole Johnson. “We are delighted to provide this new tool to help connect individuals to benefits and services.”
Users can access the following programs through the new website:
The new site can also screen users for the following services: