Coalition Pushes for Public Health Care Option in NJ

NJ Spotlight News | October 10, 2016 | Health Care, Politics
Some groups in NJ are pushing for a government-run, public option for health insurance to regulate the marketplace.

By Briana Vannozzi

It started with Oxford Health Plans in May. The insurance provider pulled out of the Affordable Care Act — or ACA — marketplace and its coverage of 12,000 New Jersey residents. Then, Oscar Insurance Corporation which covers 24,000 people followed suit in August. But the tipping point came earlier this month, when 35,000 policy holders with Health Republic Insurance Group learned they too would stop selling policies under the federal exchange leaving just two insurers to cover the state.

“I think the time is right that the state of New Jersey itself offers real competition to insurance carriers and offers that public option on a statewide basis,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.

The campaign to bring a government-run health insurance plan, known as a public option, is gathering support among progressive leaders and health care advocates.

“The public option is a health coverage program run by a government agency much like medicare or medicaid,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Health Care Program Director Maura Collinsgru.

A few dozen organizations, including New Jersey Citizen Action, have banned together creating the NJ for Health Care coalition. They back a public option, because they say it creates competition allowing the government to compete with commercial carriers for coverage.

“Data suggests the cost would be more affordable, that we would have less cost sharing in those types of programs and it would help people to maintain their coverage and not go from program to program,” Collinsgru said.

Gusciora has introduced a new version of an old bill that would have created a single-payer system. Patients make their health care choices, but the government controls the prices. He’s scrapped that in favor of what he calls, “Jersey Care” a public health option.

“It creates the stability that is there in the face of insurance companies pulling out, raising the rates, the fact that we have to rely on the federal exchange rather than have a home-spun state exchange,” Gusciora said.

The Departments of Health and Banking and Insurance would run the program. Gusciora says it provides more alternatives. Consumers can keep their plans through employers or private carriers if they choose. While he supports a single payer system he called this a stepping stone.

“Single payer that would be the only option. Everyone would be covered by one system run by the government agency. The public option is just that it’s an option that is in addition to what private insurers offer on the marketplace,” Collinsgru said.

Collinsgru says the uninsured rate has dropped to about eight percent in New Jersey. The ACA brought more than 800,000 people into coverage. Adding that naysayers should consider repeal vs. reform — starting from scratch or building on what we’ve already got.

While the option may be more of a reality than ever it all depends, of course, on legislative approval and the governor’s signature.
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