New Jerseyans’ Health Must Remain Priority in Budget Debate

I had the privilege today of testifying before the Assembly Budget Committee on the budget challenges confronting our state and the impact they may have on New Jersey’s hospitals and their patients.

The mission of our healthcare providers is to ensure access to quality healthcare for the citizens of our state. And we carry out this mission every day. New Jersey is home to a comprehensive network of acute care hospitals, specialty hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and other healthcare facilities committed to delivering quality, compassionate care.

We know the Legislature and the Governor, like the rest of us, value healthcare as an essential part of New Jersey’s quality of life. And our elected officials face a daunting task in addressing the state’s financial problems. But our healthcare system is already in the grip of fiscal crisis, and the state once again is asking hospitals to do more with less, even as the number of uninsured grows and the demand for healthcare services rises.

Last week before a joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Christie declared a state of fiscal emergency and signed an executive order allowing him to direct the Treasury Department to freeze over $1.3 billion in unexpended funds. While we applaud Gov. Christie for taking bold steps to balance the state budget, we are disappointed in the $12.6 million cut to charity care. This cut comes with an additional loss of $12.6 million in federal matching funds so the overall impact on New Jersey hospitals is $25 million.

The impact to hospitals and their patients is not limited to this cut to charity care alone. Reductions to the NJ FamilyCare program, including a change in enrollment for 11,700 undocumented immigrants and freeze in parent enrollment, will have a direct impact on the healthcare of our citizens. In addition to impeding access to care, these cuts also will contribute to increases in documented charity care provided by New Jersey hospitals – extending the gap between the care delivered and the reimbursement received.

In addition, more than 370,000 individuals who were in crisis and in need of outpatient mental health services came to New Jersey’s Emergency Departments last year because they could not find the behavioral health services they needed elsewhere. A delay in the state’s planned expansion of intensive outpatient services will add to this number as the gap in critical mental health services in the community expands. More than 25 percent of charity care patients who remain in hospital inpatient beds have a primary diagnosis of mental illness, and cuts to behavioral health programs will have a dramatic impact on charity care services rendered.

Even as the Governor proposes other, more severe budget actions, we would hope the health of our state’s citizens and those that provide care to them remain a priority. In the spirit of shared commitment that defines the charity care program, we pledge to work with the Administration and our state legislators on solutions that can help us ensure that the hospital care all New Jerseyans depend on will still be there when they need it.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 17:18


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