A report from liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective is calling for the state to achieve universal health coverage for children.

The report says 3.5 percent of Jersey kids are not protected by health insurance — about 70,000 individuals. And it says 20 states have lower rates.

But it says most of those could be covered if New Jersey FamilyCare — the state's publicly funded health insurance program — allowed undocumented immigrant children into the program, and if it reinstated a buy-in program for middle-class families that ended in 2014.

"The biggest problem is that two-thirds of all of the uninsured children are simply not eligible for Family Care,"  report author and Director of Health Policy for NJPP Ray Castro said. "That is a pretty startling statistic."

Castro said for middle-class families participating in the buy-in program — through which they'd pay the full cost of their own coverage —  premiums in New Jersey Family Care would be about $2,200 a year, less than half of what it would be for an adult to be covered by health insurance in New Jersey.

He said undocumented immigrants would be placed in a "new eligibility category" that would be phased in over three years, for an eventual cost of about $66 million per year.

About 23,000 uninsured children, the report says, are eligible but not participating "due to administrative barriers and a lack of intensive outreach." It cites as an example locking children out of coverage for 90 days if a payment is missed, and recommends reforms to such systems.

"In this respect, in terms of children, nothing can be more important," state Sen. Joe Vitale said.

Neil Eichler of the New Jersey Hospital Association his group also supports universal coverage for children.

"Our industry has long supported expanding coverage to as many New Jersey residents as possible, and we will continue to do that," he said.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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