A state lawmaker wants to ensure that every child in New Jersey has health insurance from the time that they are born. And that includes children whose parents may have brought them to this country illegally.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said many low-income children lack health coverage, which means that they end up getting sicker because they don't get the treatment that they need.

Vitale said the effort must include making all families and children eligible for child health care, regardless of immigration status.

"The downside for children not being insured is multi problematic. Children who are sick miss school, they don't perform well," he said.

The legislation would provide funding for outreach was well as eliminate premiums for families in the Childrens' Health Insurance Program (consistent with Medicaid and 22 other states), eliminate the 90-day waiting period before enrolling in CHIP, and all people living in the country illegally to be eligible for NJ FamilyCare based.

An estimated 78,000 children in the state are not insured, according to a report by the progressive New Jersey Policy Perspective. About 3.5% of children in the state lack coverage. When broken down by race and ethnicity, 5.1% of black children and 6.3% of Hispanic children have no insurance.

The report also says that many immigrant families are reluctant to enroll in public health programs because of dear of federal anti-immigration policies. An estimated 150,000 children in the state have parents who are not citizens.

Vitale says the plan, still being formulated, must be strong on local involvement.

"The challenge has always been for the state in terms of the outreach and be able to get to the families and let them understand what this program provides," he said.

"This is really a roadmap to finding out how it has reached them," Vitale said. "A lot of this happens on a local level with community organizations, with the local mayors and council people who do their own outreach through the communities, through the schools, especially for kids who are preschool."

Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex, will craft a companion bill in the Assembly.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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