Even with pandemic-era help, health insurance access varies in NJ
TRENTON – Rates of health insurance coverage in New Jersey continue to vary by race, age, income, education and geographic lines, says a New Jersey Policy Perspective report that warns the disparities could worse further once pandemic-era federal help expires next year.
Black and Hispanic residents still face more barriers than other New Jerseyans in gaining access to affordable health coverage, said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action.
“It’s really screaming for our attention to address the equity issues that still exist in health care,” Collinsgru said.
Hispanic and Black residents are more likely to hold the part-time jobs that lack benefits or have their hours reduced beneath the thresholds needed to qualify, said the report, which was authored by NJPP senior policy analyst Brittany Holom-Trundy.
“Unfortunately, not all residents have access to the coverage they need,” she said. “This is a direct result of our employer-based health insurance system layered on top of racial disparities in access to good-paying jobs that offer robust health benefits. With federal expansions to public health programs expiring, it’s now up to state lawmakers to address coverage gaps and get the Garden State covered.”
The study found:
- Low-income residents are three times more likely to be uninsured than someone making between $50,000 and $74,999, and six times more likely than someone making between $100,000 and $149,999.
- Residents with less than a high school diploma are eight times more likely to be uninsured than someone with at least a bachelor’s degree.
- Residents with less than a high school diploma are twice as likely to be enrolled in public health coverage than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- Young adults are more likely to be uninsured and less likely than other age groups to participate in a public insurance program. Reasons: lack of access to job-based coverage, less stable employment as they first enter the workforce, a lack of knowledge about options after losing coverage through their parents’ insurance at 26, and fewer savings and a greater need for help from family with regular bills.
- Counties that have more families with lower incomes, limited access to employer coverage or more unauthorized immigrants were more likely to see higher numbers of uninsured residents, especially for working-age adults. Uninsured rates range from 3.6% in Sussex County to 19.8% in Passaic County.
The report suggests that the state tailor open-enrollment communications to the populations lacking insurance, make it easier to enroll such as by letting people check a box on income tax forms to say they are seeking health coverage, expand Medicaid; and make unauthorized immigrants qualify for GetCoveredNJ assistance.
“We need to do a better job in outreach, in communicating to these individuals,” Collinsgru said. “We need a simplified enrollment.”
Gov. Phil Murphy this week conditionally vetoed an ‘Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program’ like the one the report suggests. He cited risks of consumer confusion and unattainable expectations in making a number of suggested changes, including delaying how long it would take to begin the program.
The report also said there are around 55,000 state residents who are unable to qualify for premium tax credits or state subsidies because of what’s called a “family glitch” – under which the determination of whether someone’s health coverage is affordable depends on what it costs to cover the worker, not their family.
“It makes it very difficult for family members to get coverage that’s affordable,” said Collinsgru, who said that’s an issue for the federal government to fix – either through Congress or direct action by the Biden administration.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.