Advocates: Repealing Obamacare would cost N.J. jobs and lives

US NEWS HEALTHCARE-PROTESTS 3 WA
Scott Fines of Missouri, 31, protests in the Hart Senate Building against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 31, 2017 in Washington, D.C. About 50 people from 20 states were arrested for breaking the law against protesting in a Senate office building, including Scott Fines, who said he's afraid his 2-year-old son will lose insurance because he had a congenital heart defect. "This is a matter of life or death," Fines said. (Aude Guerrucci/McClatchy/TNS)

New Jersey stands to lose an estimated 86,000 jobs — and hundreds of lives — if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, advocacy groups said Tuesday.

The generally left-leaning groups detailed county-by-county effects in an effort to get residents to put pressure on representatives at town hall meetings during this week’s congressional recess. Some lawmakers who have not scheduled meetings are discovering that gatherings have been planned in their absence.

With more than $4 billion a year in direct federal funding at stake, the ripple effect of rescinding the law would kill 86,000 jobs, according to an analysis by New Jersey Policy Perspective. About 800,000 residents would lose health insurance without the ACA's Medicaid expansion and subsidies for coverage purchased on the federal exchange. Plus, 212,000 seniors who fall into Medicare’s “doughnut hole” would each lose an average $1,241 in prescription assistance.

“No one is exempt,” said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action. Repeal would “strain the resources of state, county, and local government,” and directly or indirectly affect 11 percent of the state population. Health care represents 18 percent of the state economy.

The analysis projected that 777 people would die due to lost insurance over the next 12 years, and broke down that number – along with estimated losses in federal funding and number of insured residents –  by county: 31 deaths in Burlington County, 57 in Camden County, 23 in Gloucester County.

Organizations in Pennsylvania have released similar analyses (137,000 jobs lost, 1 million left without insurance), and projected that Harrisburg’s budget deficit could nearly double.

Despite all the regulations in Obamacare, health insurance markets vary significantly from state to state, and so repeal of the Affordable Care Act would play out differently across the country. From a funding perspective, “New Jersey would actually be worse off than before the ACA,” said Raymond Castro, who prepared the analysis for New Jersey Policy Perspective, because the  federal government previously was paying hundreds of millions of dollars to help cover groups in programs that are no longer available.

On the other hand, one of the most popular features of  Obamacare – a prohibition on refusing coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions –  has been part of New Jersey law for decades. Most states, including Pennsylvania, have no such ban to return to.

Although Republicans in Congress have not settled on a replacement to the ACA, some preferences are becoming apparent, among them block grants to the states to fund the Medicaid expansion. Those grants would likely be smaller and would save money by not expanding with need like the current entitlement.

“There is no [currently proposed] fix that maintains the level of coverage or benefits that we now have,” Collinsgru said during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

Her organization is helping to publicize town hall meetings on the issue around the state, some scheduled by congressional offices, others not. The latter includes meetings planned Wednesday evening in the districts of Reps. Tom MacArthur  and Chris Smith, and weekly vigils in Mays Landing, Toms River, and Hamilton.