Credit: (NJ Senate Democrats)
Sen. Loretta Weinberg

As New Jersey continues to battle through the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jerseyans are not only worried about their physical health and well-being but also about their financial health.

Families are apprehensive about how they will be able to afford child care, car payments, rent, and even whether they will be able to put food on the table for their loved ones. While the bills continue to pile up, there is a very real concern among many families about the soaring cost of health care, which continues to outpace household budgets.

The pandemic placed an enormous strain on our nation’s health care infrastructure and exposed serious flaws in the system for patients, especially when it comes to equity and affordability.

What is New Jersey residents’ biggest issue with their health care? It’s too expensive. A recent poll conducted by ALG Research and Bully Pulpit Interactive on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care — a coalition of advocates and former policymakers working to provide a voice for patients in the health care debate as they demand better care — shows that New Jersey residents remain concerned about the skyrocketing cost of care, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

An overwhelming 71% of New Jerseyans say that their health care costs are rising faster than their income levels. Among those who struggle financially, this number rises to a staggering 80% of respondents. Nearly a quarter of respondents currently have unpaid or overdue medical bills, but again the number rises for those already struggling financially — to an astonishing 43%.

Aggressive billing practices

Communities of color are particularly impacted by aggressive billing practices of hospitals, labs, and other health care service providers. Thirty-five percent of people of color who were polled reported that they have unpaid or overdue medical bills. The pandemic laid bare the urgent need to reduce racial disparities when it comes to health care. It also revealed for all of us just how important it is that people have access to quality, affordable, equitable care. As health care costs continue to rise for New Jerseyans and the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to pose a risk to our health and safety, our leaders must do better for New Jersey families by lowering health care costs.

Legislators at the state and federal levels must first listen to the concerns of New Jersey residents. Families across the state are looking for our leaders to take bold action, with 54% of voters citing the cost of health care as the main issue elected officials should work to address. Among their chief concerns are the growing cost of insurance deductibles, rising premiums, junk insurance plans, and restrictions on money-saving tools that would help drive down prescription drug prices.

As we work to rebuild from this extraordinary crisis, it is time to stand up for New Jersey residents and take action. Elected officials are uniquely positioned to address the rising cost of health care while building an economy that works for all New Jerseyans, regardless of socioeconomic status. Addressing these concerns and ensuring access to high-quality care for all must be top of mind. New Jersey families deserve to have leaders representing them in Trenton and Washington, D.C. who are working together to produce real, meaningful solutions for their constituents.

Op-Ed: We must tackle the biggest problem with health care — its cost