Legislative Update

Feb 14, 2018

By Senator Troy Singleton, 7th Legislative District

One of the fundamental building blocks of a healthy community, where the interests of medicine and democracy intersect, is the ability to provide access to quality health care for everyone. We constantly face the deluge of questions on this subject: Who, what, how and how much should we pay for health care? I’m a firm believer that at the individual level, when we are healthier or have access to the help we need to become healthy, we are better off both personally and as a community.
Several issues about community health care are front and center these days and require our attention because, in the end, its effects trickle down to our health or someone we know.
Recently, I wrote about the lack of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was a cause for alarm. Both political parties support CHIP, yet it lived in limbo for 114 days until it was included in a short-term spending bill signed by President Donald Trump. CHIP covers children in families who earn too much for Medicaid, but too little to afford private insurance. Additionally, the program affects nearly 9 million youngsters and about 370,000 pregnant women. The problem is that we only have a short-term solution. The CHIP program escaped the gallows, but funding for community health centers remains elusive.
“While we have supported and are very pleased that CHIP relief is included [in the funding], the failure to do the same for health centers leaves them increasingly anxious that many more will face a loss of clinical health professionals who are seeking more stable work options,” said Dan Hawkins, senior vice president, The National Association of Community Centers. Let’s not ignore the impact and urgency here as well.
Community health centers serve one out of every 12 Americans, providing services to our low-income population. The centers will lose $3.6 billion without a funding renewal. This funding renewal for community centers is critical in order to protect all Americans.
It should be also noted that care at our community health centers makes better fiscal sense for all of us as taxpayers. Why? Rather than having those who rely on the centers get their health care needs met in the more costly emergency room setting, they are afforded quality care at a far less expensive price point in the centers. This is important because the ones that are least likely to receive this more cost effective care are the poor, disenfranchised or simply in unfortunate circumstances.
Viewing this problem strategically, I recognize that a viable answer is to connect those who need help with those who are professionally capable of offering it.
That’s why I have worked on an initiative that would establish a New Jersey Community Health Worker Program in the Department of Health that would help to link medically underserved communities with health care resources. As I noted in the proposal, “Community health workers are certified professionals who connect health care consumers with health care providers and resources, with the goal of facilitating access to health care in medically underserved communities and educating health care providers about the unique obstacles faced by members of that community when seeking access to health care.”
A portion of this proposal would standardize both training and certification for health care workers within the State Medicaid reimbursement programs. This program would help improve medical outcomes, lower health care costs (fewer emergency room visits) and reduce the embedded and disturbing inequities in our health care system.
About five percent of patients account for almost one-half of the nation’s health care spending, according to Jacqueline Belliveau, referring to a National Academy of Medicine report. It’s no surprise that researchers directly linked much of that five percent to emergency rooms.
The appeal to this legislation is its effectiveness. Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital implemented a care coordination program with community health workers, resulting in an impressive fifteen percent drop in costs because of fewer emergency visits, according to Belliveau.
“Emergency department-based care coordination also resulted in 8 percent less inpatient direct costs at the large urban academic medical center, reported researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School,” Belliveau notes.
CHIP and community health centers are at the core of providing decent health care to everyone, which I believe should be a right in the greatest country in the world. We must ensure that these twin pillars receive our support because of the good they provide to our fellow citizens. Congress is currently looking at temporary fixes to both but we should demand that there be some permanency to their funding sources.

Congressman Tom MacArthur

Before the start of the New Year, Congress passed and the President signed into the law The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This legislation is the first major overhaul of our tax code in 31 years, and finally families and businesses are catching a break.  I supported this legislation after studying how it would impact my constituents and South Jersey businesses,and negotiating to make it better.
At the start of this negotiation process, some in my own party wanted to completely eliminate the state and local tax deduction, which would have had a devastating impact on the overburdened taxpayers in New Jersey. After months of negotiations with The White House and House Leadership, I was able to successfully restore the deduction for property and income taxes up to $10,000, which will benefit NJ families to the tune of $3.6 billion per year.  This, along with the lower tax rates created by this legislation, will result in relief for nearly all South Jersey residents.
We’re already starting to see positive results because of this legislation.  Large companies like Comcast, Wells Fargo, and Boeing have responded to tax reform by rewarding frontline employees. Some have given $1,000 bonuses while others have voluntarily increased their minimum wage to $15. Some have done both. Businesses across the country will spend more on capital projects, which will create good-paying jobs for our highly skilled construction tradesmen and women across the state. Small businesses will be impacted as well.  They will see the lowest tax rate since World War II, enabling them to invest in our communities.
On the individual side, the vast majority of New Jersey taxpayers are going to see more money in their pockets thanks to tax reform. The doubling of the standard deduction and child tax credit will be a boon to middle-class families. This month, they will start to see more money in their paychecks, and that money will go right back into New Jersey’s economy.
Since coming to Congress, my top priority has always been improving South Jersey’s economy and bringing jobs back to my district.  This legislation will do just that.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a win for New Jersey and I am proud to have helped deliver meaningful tax relief to my constituents and businesses in our region.