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NJBIA held its Health Affairs Policy Committee Meeting on Feb. 18 with leadership from the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey Department of Human Services, and the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance to discuss state health achievements for 2021 and priorities for 2022.

Key decision-makers in the meeting included Andrea Martinez-Mejia, Chief of Staff for DOH; Andrea Katz, Chief of Staff for DHS; and Justin Zimmerman, Chief of Staff for DOBI.     

Martinez-Mejia emphasized several achievements, such as the vaccination of more than 17 million people since December 2020, an overall 2% reduction in the COVID-19 infection rate in New Jersey, and the launch of an opiate training program as the pandemic has only exacerbated related issues.  

Regarding DOH’s priorities for 2022, Martinez-Mejia announced her department is preparing to roll out vaccines for children under 4 years old. She also reminded attendees of the “BoostNJ2Week” initiative and hopes for an increase in booster vaccination from 50% to 77%. Martinez-Mejia also mentioned the need to further digitize processes and strengthen data systems to make them more robust and efficient.  

Katz emphasized several priorities for 2022. Throughout her extensive review, she mentioned the need to look at ideas that existed before the pandemic and adapt them to fit today’s environment. She also noted the importance of making programs more accessible to individuals and families through language and application streamlining.  

In terms of long-term workforce development, Katz emphasized the shortage of staff in the care economy, which can have severe repercussions in terms of caring for the needs of those with acute and specialized needs. Katz further emphasized the need to continue investing under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for older adults and individuals with disabilities.  

Regarding childcare, Katz reminded attendees of the existence of opportunities that can make childcare more affordable for parents and businesses, such as stabilization grants to help with operational expenses, programs to retain and hire new employees, and programs to help parents with fees.  

Finally, Katz emphasized the need to start unwinding from the Public Health Emergency (PHE). As DHS has one year to return to pre-COVID operations, the department is coordinating with DOBI to transition individuals and families that could lose healthcare coverage.  

Zimmerman noted that DOBI has put a strong focus on providing access to health coverage and healthcare as it is a key emphasis of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. He also mentioned past achievements such as the “Get Covered” initiative, and the increased amount of financial help available thanks to ARPA funding, which has allowed for the removal of the income cap for health insurance and makes 9 out of 10 residents eligible to qualify for financial help and get coverage for $10 or less.  

However, Zimmerman emphasized his department’s committed goal to provide residents with help to alleviate costs, increase transparency and accountability, and make medical care more affordable. He further noted the need to address prescription drug costs and the need to monitor the end of the PHE at the federal level, as it will trigger consequences at the state level.  

During the Q&A session, NJBIA’s Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas asked Zimmerman for an update regarding the out-of-network bulletin and the status of regulations, as they should be promulgated soon. Zimmerman explained that pre-pandemic, DOBI issued guidance through the bulletin that has guided implementation. Although the department anticipates regulations as it moves forward out of the pandemic, the bulletin still functions as the guidelines, and nothing has changed as of now.  

 Regarding the workforce crisis, Buteas reminded the attendees that NJBIA provides long and short-term solutions such as its recent NJ Pathways partnership with NJCCC to develop career pathways. Regarding the Federal and State expiration of the PHE, Buteas made attendees aware of NJBIA’s communication with the administration to make sure funding does not stop abruptly. Finally, in terms of childcare, Buteas noted that it is essential to bring women back to business and to make sure to aid providers to keep the private sector going.