Higher Health Care Fees for New Jersey’s Public Employees

By: - June 29, 2011 12:00 am

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has approved broad cuts to health benefits for the state’s 750,000 government workers. The new law requires state and local employees and retirees to pay a much bigger share of their health insurance costs and eliminates their right to collective bargaining on health issues. “We are putting the people first and daring to touch the third rail of politics in order to bring reform to an unsustainable system,” the Republican governor said in a prepared statement following passage of the law. New Jersey hopes the new system will save $132 billion over the next 30 years. Florida, Wisconsin and other states have made similar cuts to government worker health benefits.

COST CONTROL: Massachusetts’ pioneering efforts to contain health care costs by putting doctors and hospitals on a per-patient monthly salary has not yet resulted in savings, Attorney General Martha Coakley reported last week. After a year-long investigation of the prices six large Massachusetts insurers paid doctors participating in a so-called “global payments” experiment in 2009, Coakley’s office found the costs to be the same as or higher than those charged by doctors under the standard fee-for-service system.

MEDICAID ROLLS: Arizona’s Supreme Court has refused to block the state from freezing enrollment in a Medicaid program that covers about 250,000 adults. Republican Governor Jan Brewer plans to stop any new sign- ups for the program for childless adults starting this Friday. Critics charge the action violates an initiative approved by voters in 2000 requiring the state to cover anyone with an income below the federal poverty level-currently $10,800 for an individual. Health care advocates estimate 17,000 people who were previously eligible will be denied care in the first month. Within a year, 150,000 would be turned away. Those who currently have Medicaid cards will remain in the program. Advocates renewed their attempt to block the cutbacks by seeking injunctions at the county court level on June 27.

MENTAL HEALTH: An investigative report by Bay Area News Group has found that a mental health fund in California approved by voters in 2004 has become so bogged down by red tape that it has done little to improve services for those in need. According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News , a mental health tax on residents with incomes above $1 million a year has generated a total of $7.4 billion. But most of the money has been spent on consultants and entrepreneurs who are trying to create new mental health programs. Meanwhile, existing services have languished, the report charges. California cut more from its mental health budget last year than any other state, forcing counties to lay off psychiatrists and shutter mental hospitals, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported in March.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.