Lawmakers Hear From Acting NJ Health Commissioner

By Michael Hill

The acting state health commissioner was under the weather and at times under the gun as members of the Assembly Budget Committee questioned her about spending, priorities and programs, such as why with the state tripling spending on graduate medical education, 70 percent of young doctors keep leaving New Jersey.

“Can this committee look forward to learning that the 70 percent figure has reduced?” asked Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“I would hope that we would see improvements in it. I don’t know if it is something that is a flip of the switch,” said New Jersey Department of Health Acting Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.

The acting commissioner told lawmakers the department has launched an aggressive, multi-pronged anti Zika virus campaign, including advising doctors to warn pregnant women, joining forces with other state agencies on mosquito prevention and detection and preparing a lab to test residents exposed to Zika while traveling.

“The test will be sent to our public health lab right here in Trenton and we are expecting the testing is going to be available here in New Jersey in May,” Bennett said.

Lawmakers’ questions ran the gamut — on lead, tobacco, cancer research, opiate abuse, hospital acquisitions, reimbursement and charity care.

Two lawmakers exchanged words about whether all women in New Jersey have full access to health care.

“It is unjust and unfair to sit here and say that there is women that have that full access,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin.

“But they did ultimately get the service that the needed?” asked Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

“Yes, after they came to out office though contacting my office,” Marin said.

“I’m glad they got it. Then I can rest my case. That I have not yet found one person after reaching our offices couldn’t find the services that they need,” O’Scanlon said.

The state health department says 700,000 uninsured New Jerseyans now have health coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Democrats on the committee  ask the acting health director of the Republican administration about the success of Obamacare or the ACA New Jersey and one did so by reminding the audience of what the governor has said about it.

“He also said on March 18 2014 he refereed to Obamacare as a failed federal program. It seems to me it’s been fairly positive at least for New Jersey,” Schaer said.

“I would agree that the Medicaid expansion has been positive for New Jersey,” Bennett said.

The acting commissioner also told lawmakers New Jersey has the fifth best sexually transmitted disease statistics in the country, prompting the chair to take note as he closed the hearing.

“I will admit to you as a result of today’s discussion I finally have an extraordinary adept and meaningful response to why it is that people want to stay in New Jersey,” Schaer said.