Expand FamilyCare to all immigrant kids in NJ, report says
A proposed federal rule temporarily blocked by the courts that would deny green cards and various visas to immigrants enrolled or deemed likely to sign up for a public safety net program appears to be cutting into the number of kids with health coverage in New Jersey.
The number of children with health coverage though NJ FamilyCare dropped by around 30,000 in seven months last year, and it’s currently at a nearly five-year low, said Ray Castro, director of health policy for New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Much of that is likely because of the healthy economy, Castro said. But that doesn’t explain why the demographic impacts are uneven: Census Bureau estimates show the number of uninsured white and black children dropped last year by around 3,600 but increased by 2,600 for Asian and Latino groups, who make up 85% of immigrants in New Jersey, he said.
“Citizens had virtually no change in the participation in public health programs, but there was an incredible 14% drop for immigrants,” Castro said. “This is particularly disturbing because about a third of all immigrants are already uninsured in New Jersey, compared to only 4% for citizens.”
Castro said the figures show there has been “a chilling effect” from federal proposals, even if they aren’t implemented yet, such as the public charge rule.
“It should be easy for every child to obtain health coverage without fear, but unfortunately that is not always the case,” Castro said.
Erika Nava, a policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said an estimated 250,000 children in New Jersey live in families with at least one non-citizen family member that has received a public benefit listed in the proposed rule. She said some people mistakenly think it applies to kids to whom it does not.
“While it is not true, this misinformation about potential changes has impacted mixed-status families’ decision to apply or dis-enroll from public benefits,” Nava said.
The report issued Monday estimates that the FamilyCare enrollment decrease means New Jersey receives about $5 million less in federal matching funds each month, compared to the May 2018 peak. Kids with health coverage wind up being treated at hospitals, which are reimbursed for a portion of their costs through the state’s charity care program, paid for by state taxpayers.
Nava said state officials need to ensure immigrants have the correct information and can’t shy from proactive policies, such as allowing all children to sign up for FamilyCare regardless of whether they are in the country legally.
“All New Jerseyans regardless of status are members of our state and deserve a chance to thrive in our economy,” Nava said.
Laura Waddell, a health care organizer with New Jersey Citizen Action, said the report and trend are concerning. She said that “only a very, very small percentage of people” would actually be affected by the federal rule proposal but that it is widely misunderstood.
“Much more needs to be done, especially with regards to outreach and enrollment for vulnerable populations in our state,” Waddell said.
Open enrollment for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchange begins Friday and continues through Dec. 15.