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Nicole Sandelier, director of Economic Policy Research at NJBIA and executive director of Focus NJ, provides the following summary of NJBIA’s Health Affairs Policy Committee meeting, held virtually on Feb. 26. 

Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Assemblyman Herb Conaway spoke at NJBIA’s Health Affairs Policy Committee facilitated by NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous challenges that the state continues to face today.

The unmet demand for skilled healthcare professionals, including RNs, LPNs, certified nursing assistants, and home health aides, has been exacerbated by the pandemic and continues to be a significant concern for New Jersey’s health services industry.

In addition, a shortage of instructors coupled with the challenges of teaching amid COVID-19 safety restrictions have made educating and certificating students extremely difficult. Finally, there is concern about attracting and retaining students in low-to-mid skilled careers due to low pay.

Because of limited vaccine supplies and the need for ultra-cold storage, vaccine distribution remains challenging in New Jersey. However, there is optimism that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which was approved by the FDA for emergency use the day after our meeting) will increase flexibility for storage and be more prescriptive since only one dose is needed.

Both chairmen did not believe there would be legislation requiring healthcare employees receive the vaccine. However, there was discussion around requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for children when it becomes available. Furthermore, the Senate may take another run at legislation requiring children receive all their vaccines prior enrolling in school. The previous legislation under consideration failed by one vote in the Senate.

The committee also discussed issues such as: providing affordable payment options for medical marijuana through state programs/funds, improving mental health services, expanding telehealth services, and the need for small employer health (SEH) market reforms.