by Julia Ernst
With the 2008 presidential elections looming, social, economic and political issues are on the minds of people everywhere. Two speakers brought these concerns to light this week, visiting the University through the Rider Institute for New Jersey Politics.
On Monday, state Sen. Joseph Vitale spoke on the topic of healthcare and his plans for big changes in New Jersey. Vitale is a Democrat from Woodbridge.
“The time is right now for reform,” Vitale said. “It’s kind of come to this critical mass. We’re seeing hospitals close and people being unable to afford health insurance.”
According to Vitale, there are currently over 1 million people in New Jersey who do not have health insurance. He is developing a plan that would provide 1.4 million New Jersey citizens with health insurance coverage by 2011.
“We have this dilemma, where most of the folks who are uninsured just don’t have the money for health insurance,” Vitale said. “It’s getting worse every year.”
There are many aspects of Vitale’s plan to provide health insurance for needy New Jerseyans. One of the biggest components is making healthcare more accessible to people whose employers don’t provide it but who are nearly able to pay for it on their own. Phase two of Vitale’s plan, to be announced in May, will focus on enrolling people in the state system and making changes within that system to help them afford it.
“There are a lot of folks out there who can afford health insurance with a little bit of help,” Vitale said. “Depending on your income and family size, then we’ll be able to balance [the cost] out. Anywhere from 4 to 5 percent of your income after taxes is what you’ll be expected to pay.”
Another component involves taking away charity care, which is what people without insurance receive when they visit the emergency room for something as little as an ear infection or as big as a heart attack. Taxpayers and hospitals end up paying the cost of charity care. These are two aspects that Vitale hopes his plan will change.
“If we take away the charity care, [the closing hospitals] will have a fighting chance,” Vitale said. “We’re not going to raise taxes to pay for this.”
On Thursday, State Treasurer and Rider alumnus David Rousseau echoed some of Vitale’s comments during a speech about his new position in the governor’s office.
“Almost all of us support some kind of healthcare for everyone, but the states cannot do it on their own,” Rousseau said. “Universal healthcare will be something that comes out of Washington.”
Rousseau explained what his new role in the state government entails.
“The treasurer is the lead person in developing a budget,” Rousseau explained. “We put different scenarios together for the governor. Once the budget is signed, I make sure the budget is implemented.”
Much of Rousseau’s talk focused on the current budget controversy in New Jersey. Gov. Jon Corzine has proposed numerous cuts to existing budgets, as well as hikes to the state’s toll roads to start dealing with the budget crisis.
“The economy has declined since the governor proposed his budget,” Rousseau said. “I will have to come in with lower revenue costs, which will mean we’ll have to make more cuts.”
Some of the cuts made affect colleges and aid to municipalities and hospitals. There was also an 800 percent increase in tolls on state roads. However, Rousseau told listeners that the governor and his staff also made cuts within the system.
“We first looked internally,” Rousseau said. “The governor cut $350 million from our operations.”
Rousseau said that although the citizens of New Jersey are not necessarily happy with the budget cuts and toll increases, there seems to be a more understanding mindset among people.
“You’re not going to turn things around overnight,” Rousseau said. “They may not like the cuts, but they realize we may have to live with it for now.”