During these difficult times, when the economy is in dire straights and economists are employing the term “recession”, in lieu of the term, “depression”, government officials are struggling to cut costs at the municipal, county, and State levels. One of the main targets had been the cost of health insurance for public employees.
The cost of health coverage has been escalating every year, far ahead of the pace of inflation. It has caused municipal taxes to rise every year, well beyond the attempt of local governments to keep taxes down.
The solution that has been offered by the Governor and county and local officials is to eliminate an inordinate number of public workers, including police fire, education, and public maintenance employees. The result has been an increase in crime, less public safety, challenged educational services, and a continued downward spiral of the economy.
Public workers will pay more for less health coverage, leaving them vulnerable to being wiped out financially in the event of a catastrophic illness. In fact, people in New Jersey have lost their homes as a result of health care costs that are beyond their means. Several financial organizations have stated that the most singular cause of bankruptcy has been the presence of a major illness in the family.
Public pensions have eliminated cost of living adjustments, which will lead to many retirees becoming welfare recipients. The most unmanageable part of pension costs, officials point out, has been the ever rising cost of health insurance.
Yet, few office holders from either political party have been willing to address the major culprit, greed in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. As the population becomes more challenged economically, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have reported record profits. However, since these two industries give major donations to both political parties, lawmakers have been silent about the problem.
Only one State legislator has been unafraid to address the issue. State Senator Barbara Buono, who currently serves as the Senate Majority Leader, is preparing legislation that would make it more difficult for insurance companies to increase their rates without the approval of several watch dog groups. According to Buono, since 2001 family premiums have increase 113 per cent, well ahead of the pace of inflation. Employer sponsored health coverage has experienced similar increases. The continual rise in health insurance coasts is crippling local governments in New Jersey. Yet, other lawmakers have remained silent about the insurance industry’s seeming ability to act without accountability.
Senator Buono’s proposed legislation would create oversight that would end the ability of the insurance industry to raise rates at will. According to Buono:
“New Jersey’s families and businesses have struggled under the crippling burden of soaring healthcare premiums for far too long....It is time that residents had a state-level advocate working on their behalf to keep costs down. This legislation will ensure the state’s regulation of insurance is rigorous and transparent, and that the interests of working families”
Certainly, property tax relief will remain a fallacy until this issue is resolved. The cost of health care truly prevents working families from attaining the upward mobility that this nation purports to be available through hard work and sacrifice. Unfortunately, during every economic downturn, there is always an entity that profits from the sacrifice of others.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.