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Asking regulated entities such as banks, insurance companies and real estate firms to help New Jersey business and residents make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the top of priority for the state Department of Banking.

Whether it’s deferring mortgages and rent payments or arranging for no co-pays for COVID-19 tests or telemedicine services, this was the key point DOBI Commissioner Marlene Caride made at Tuesday morning’s Virtual Town Hall Meeting co-hosted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce.

Providing examples of assistance, Caride said that more than 175 state charted banks and credit unions, as well as other mortgage servicers, worked with DOBI to deliver financial mortgage protections to consumers.

Working with student loan service companies, the department was able to help more than 200,000 residents with private student loans receive forbearance, with providers also waiving late fees.

DOBI also worked with auto insurers, both commercial and personal providers, in delivering premium reductions since policyholders have been driving at a minimum during the state’s shutdown. “This was done with consistency across the board with all of our insurance companies … holding them all to same standard,” Caride explained.

On the health insurance side, Caride stressed that it remains important that residents have access to health coverage. To that end, in the state’s individual health insurance market, DOBI allowed residents, who missed premium payments, a grace period extending over a number of months.

Discussing, the new state-based healthcare exchange that will launch on November 1, when open enrollment begins, Caride said this marketplace will provide residents a longer enrollment period (12 weeks). Additionally, more financial assistance will be provided to those purchasing health insurance in the marketplace via state subsidies, in addition to federal aid.

For those businesses that have part-time employees who do not qualify for healthcare insurance coverage, Caride asked employers to recommend workers to the new marketplace. “We are asking you to help. All of us need to work together to make sure everyone gets the coverage they deserve,” she said.

When asked about the condition of the state’s small employer health insurance market, which has been experiencing declining enrollments and premium increases over the past 10 years, Caride said DOBI has hired an actuarial firm to conduct research and calculations on how to better address this market.

“We are trying to do what we can to ensure this market is viable,” she said. “Once we get the actuarial report, we will have better insight as to what direction to go in.”

Commenting on a recent change to the state’s worker’s compensation law that creates a presumption that COVID-19 infections occurred in the workplace, and leaves it up to the employer to prove that it didn’t, Caride commented that insurers who provide worker’s compensation are not regulated the same way as other insurance companies. DOBI, however, does look at the rate filings of these providers.

“Last year, when we had a rate filing, I did not agree with or approve a rate increase. So I am cognizant [of the issue] and we will be watching to see what happens regarding the correlation between rate filings and the new law,” she said.

On the issue of banks having the capability of providing working capital to businesses as they emerge from the pandemic, Caride said she constantly looks at the health of the regulated financial institutions the department monitors, and said she has not come across anything that “raises a flag at this time. The companies we are regulating are strong enough to overcome the impact of this [crisis],” she said, adding, “We look at all factors in making sure our companies are viable and can cross over the spectrum of the pandemic.”