Garden State Joins Chorus of State Health Mandate Proposals

May 16, 2006 ( - Following similar moves in several other states, a New Jersey state Senate panel has approved a bill forcing companies with more than 1,000 employees to fund a worker health care program.

The 3-1 vote by the Senate Labor committee follows a two-hour hearing during which representatives of business groups complained that the measure amounted to an unfair burden on them, according to a Bergen (New Jersey) Record news report. The bill will now go to the Senate Budget Committee and then to the full Senate and House.

The measure would require New Jersey employers with more than 1,000 employees to contribute to an employee’s health care or to a state health-care fund based on the number of hours they work. Only those workers on the job for more than 13 hours a week would be covered, the news report said.

Employers would have to pay $1.65 per hour worked in the first year, $2.50 in the second year and $3.30 in the third year, amounting to $3,217 in the first year and $6,435 in the third year for an employee working 37.5 hours a week.

Employers would have to compare the amount they spend on health care with the amount required under the bill, and employers who spent too little could either increase their spending or pay the shortfall into the state fund.  The mandate applies to public institutions with 1,000 or more employees, including counties and large cities, as well as private employers.

After the vote, Governor Jon Corzine’s office issued a statement indicating support for the bill.

Committee Chairman Senator Stephen Sweeney said the bill would affect about 120 companies. “We don’t feel it’s fair to the taxpayers of New Jersey to provide health-care coverage to working families,” said Sweeney, one of the bill’s sponsors, according to the Record. “We feel it’s the employer’s responsibility.”

The bill is patterned after a Maryland law, approved in January, that was the first in the nation to require private businesses to pay for health care. That law applied only to companies with 10,000 or more employees, apparently targeting Wal-Mart – the nation’s largest employer – whose health benefit policies have triggered a national debate that has spawned similar bills in about 30 states (See Veto of ‘Wal-Mart Bill’ Overridden in MD Senate ).

Among the other states at least considering a similar move have been Connecticut (See Nutmeg State Debates Health Coverage Tax ), Kentucky (See Kentucky Moves Closer To Adopting ‘Wal-Mart Bill’ ), New Hampshire (See Wal-Mart Bill Collapses In New Hampshire House Vote ), Vermont (See VT House Gives First Approval to Retiree Health Bill ) and Michigan (See MI’s Granholm Joins Health Reform Trend ).