Improving the Lot of Some of NJ’s Most Over-Looked Citizens

Increased Medicaid Funding and
New Housing Choice Vouchers Will Help

Joel CantorIn an April 12, 2016 NJSpotlight opinion piece, Joel Cantor writes about “Improving the Lot of Some of New Jersey’s Most-Overlooked Citizens.”

Cantor is the director of the Center for State Health Policy and professor of public policy at Rutgers.

“Integrating the treatment of debilitating mental-health problems and physical care can help relieve suffering and reduce some of the burden on the healthcare budget.”

Writes Cantor.

Cantor points to some positive movement towards helping our neighbors who are “most-overlooked.”

“In his 2017 budget address, Gov. Chris Christie committed over $100 million to increase payment rates for mental-health and addiction services in Medicaid, the state healthcare program for the poor and disabled. There are steep barriers to access mental-health and addiction care among low-income populations, and inadequate Medicaid payments are one cause of these obstacles. While not a panacea, higher rates surely will help enhance access.”

A January, a Rutgers University report that Cantor co-chaired found that “86 percent of the top one percent most-costly Medicaid beneficiaries have at least one behavioral health condition, including about one-in-three with severe, disabling mental illness.” Behavioral health services can save the State money.

Chronically homeless individuals often have a disability such as mental illness. The State is taking steps to help this very vulnerable population. In March, Governor Christie announced funding for 500 housing vouchers to “… chronically homeless individuals and/or families who are high utilizers of public systems.” These Housing first vouchers have proven to reduce hospital expenses and cycling through the prison and jail system. “Well executed, Housing First can even pay for itself, with savings across different public services offsetting new housing costs.”

“In New Jersey, Medicaid covers nearly one in five state residents, many of whom bear extraordinary burdens of illness and poverty. State policymakers are making important strides using the policy tools available through Medicaid and other programs to improve lives and government efficiency.”

Cantor concludes.

But Cantor highlights another recent Seton Hall report that helps make the case that while “strides” are being made, “This important work is not yet complete.”

NJSpotlight Op-ed