Thursday, December 01, 2022

Two pending health coverage expansions in New Jersey

A Jersey City view of Manhattan

In coming months, two health insurance coverage initiatives will come to fruition in New Jersey.

First, On January 1, 2023, Phase 2 of a Cover All Kids initiative enacted in 2021 will extend Medicaid eligibility to undocumented children under age 19.

Second, on November 23, the state Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) announced its intent to propose a regulation requiring health plans regulated by the state to provide comprehensive coverage for abortion, albeit with an opt-out for religious employers. As with almost all state insurance regulations, this does not apply to self-insured employer plans, which are regulated by the federal government through ERISA.

Both bring to fruition initiatives that were delayed by late changes to legislation. When Cover All Kids legislation passed in  June 2021, the legislature, facing state elections in November, balked at funding coverage for undocumented children in FY 2022 (beginning days after budget passage) and broke the initiative into two phases, outlined below. 

Similarly, in January of this year, the legislature codified the right to abortion in New Jersey but held off from requiring that all health plans subject to state regulation cover the procedure .  Instead, the bill directed DOBI to conduct a study to determine whether such a requirement was warranted. Yesterday (Nov. 30), DOBI released the study, which found that "for a variety of reasons, the availability of insurance coverage for such services is inconsistent." 

Subscribe now

Cover All Kids follows Cover Your Ass

Legislation to make health coverage available to all children in New Jersey has been a longstanding goal of state advocacy groups including New Jersey Policy Perspective (which crunched the numbers in a series of reports, first in 2018 and most recently this past June); New Jersey Citizen Action; and the New Jersey for Health Care Coalition, an umbrella group. 

According to NJPP's most recent estimate, of about 88,000 uninsured children in the state, about 53,000 were eligible for coverage, while another 36,000 were ineligible, either because they exceeded income limits (18,000), were undocumented (16,000), or both (2,000). 

The legislation passed in late June 2021 broke the program into two phases. Phase 1, with $20 million in funding for FY 2022, has aimed to enroll uncovered-but-eligible children by eliminating CHIP premiums (already eliminated on an emergency basis in response to the pandemic in March 2020), eliminating the 90-day waiting period for new CHIP enrollees, and conducting outreach to enroll eligible children. 

Phase 2, beginning in January, will offer eligibility to undocumented children* and a buy-in to children in families with income above the state's current 355% FPL CHIP eligibility threshold. Funding allocated for Phase 2 in the state's FY 2023 budget is about $11 million.

As NJ Spotlight's Lilo Stainton noted at passage

the [bill] passed almost unanimously by the Senate and Assembly and signed by Murphy does not mention undocumented or immigrant children. According to several people involved with the process, the language was changed so that lawmakers — who are all up for reelection this year, along with the governor — did not have to be on record voting for a measure that uses public dollars to fund health insurance for undocumented individuals. 

The bill does, however, establish presumptive eligibility for any child whose family income qualifies her for coverage, without reference to immigration status, and mandates school-based outreach to make the availability of coverage known. And as Stainton pointed out, last spring a DHS Q&A affirmed that "DHS, in collaboration with DOBI, will also engage in intensive planning to develop coverage options for uninsured children who are currently ineligible for NJ FamilyCare, either because of family income or immigration status." That's Phase 2.

According to a presentation to the state Medical Assistance Advisory Council (MAAC) on Oct. 27, the "systems build" -- the infrastructure required to enroll undocumented children in Medicaid and CHIP -- is on track to go live in January. A Nov. 30 presentation to the state Dept. of Human Services' Cover All Kids workgroup (unpublished as yet) reiterates that the system is ready to "go green" in January. A communication campaign should go live this month. Children do not need to have social security numbers to be enrolled.

The stated goal in Phase 1 of Cover All Kids was to cover the 53,000 uninsured children in the state who were eligible for subsidized coverage. The Nov. 30 work group presentation notes that since June 2021, the month prior to  Phase 1 enactment, NJ FamilyCare enrollment for those under age 21 increased by 48,928 as of September 2022. 

Those numbers include adults aged 19-21. Among non-ABD children, from July 2021 through October 2022, enrollment increased by 39,917. During this period, however, a moratorium on disenrollments implemented in response to the pandemic in March 2020 remained (and still remains) in place, and that moratorium has driven enrollment growth throughout the pandemic -- accounting for 84% of Medicaid enrollment growth since February 2020 nationwide, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

In New Jersey, that enrollment growth has steadily diminished as the economy has recovered. Among non-ABD children in New Jersey, enrollment grew 5.6% from January to July 2020, 4.1% from July 2020 to January 2021,  3.0%  from Jan-July 2021, 2.2% from July 2021 to Jan. 2022, and 1.7% from Jan.-July 2022. It's not clear that outreach and enrollment streamlining in Cover All Kids in Phase 1 materially affected total enrollment.

Here's hoping that Phase 2 will insure significant numbers of children who are currently shut out of NJ FamilyCare.  While NJPP estimates that 18,000 undocumented children in the state are uninsured, Stainton reported that other advocates think the numbers could be much higher, and no one knows.

Inevitably, the eventual end of the Public Health Emergency will trigger the disenrollment of far more NJ FamilyCare enrollees, a bit fewer than half of whom are children, than the Cover All Kids program will enroll. About 140,000 thousand more children are enrolled in NJ FamilyCare now than in January 2020; tens of thousands may be determined ineligible when redeterminations restart. 

That's not a knock on Cover All Kids: the moratorium was a good thing, its end is unavoidable, and the state is making a good-faith effort to make the resumption of "redeterminations" as undisruptive as it can. What matters in both efforts -- the PHE unwinding and Cover All Kids --  is effective outreach and enrollment assistance -- to transition some who no longer qualify for Medicaid to subsidized marketplace coverage in the first case, and to keep enrollment of undocumented kids as simple as possible in the second.

To step back, it is a major advance to offer health coverage to any child in the state rendered eligible by family income. Premium-free coverage is currently available to all children in the state in families with income up to 355% of the Federal Poverty Level -- $65,000 for a family of two, 98,512 for a family of four.

Abortion coverage guaranteed, but it may cost you

DOBI's announcement of intent to mandate abortion coverage without restrictions notes:  "Currently, policies are available with either abortion coverage for all abortions or only for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother." While most plans do not impose such restrictions, the report suggests that the rule is needed as much for communication purposes as to expand access: "While information regarding this coverage is included in the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) it may not always be clear to consumers what coverage is included in each health benefits plan." A potentially confusing description in one plan is cited by way of example. The report also notes that requiring all plans to offer full abortion coverage may make it easier for facilities that perform abortions to accept all insurance plans.

While the report acknowledges that significant numbers of women may have difficulty paying for an abortion (citing median costs of $560 for medicated abortion and $575 for first-trimester medical abortions), and that for insured patients, deductibles may be a barrier, it is silent as to eliminating or restricting those costs. New Jersey FamilyCare, the state Medicaid program, does cover abortion -- usually at the state's expense, as the federal Hyde Amendment bars federal funding for abortion except when the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.  

Leaving out-of-pocket costs untouched probably forestalled any resistance on the part of insurers in the state. DOBI canvassed insurers as to cost impact, and "Carriers estimated a range of zero impact to .1% of premium."

The target date for the as-yet-unpublished Proposed Rule to be implemented is Jan. 1, 2024. But DOBI is asking state insurers and health plans "to make coverage for abortion services, without exceptions, effective for the start of the 2023 plan year on January 1, 2023."

That too is better done than left undone.

Update:, 12/2: Via NJPP, One more measure to reduce the “churn” that plagues Medicaid enrollment: Yesterday, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed 12-month continuous eligibility for Medicaid into law.


* In the vanguard of of opening Medicaid to the undocumented on the state's own dime is California, which offered Medicaid to undocumented residents first under age 19, then under age 26, then over age 50, and soon, on Jan. 1,  2024, to all undocumented residents eligible by income.

1 comment:

  1. Not a big deal, but a family making $98,512 (at the top end of free child coverage) does not have a problem paying $575 for an abortion. They probably paid $575 to stay at a hotel and go to a Giants football game.

    The California coverage for all the undocumented is repulsive to me, though I don't expect any congratulations for my views. Free health insurance is a marvelous magnet to draw all the poor people of Central America to the USA....where some of them will stay on welfare for many decades. Liberal nations like Germany and Sweden are agonizing over this problem right now.