When children incur medical expenses that insurance and other programs and sources can't cover, New Jersey families aren't completely out of options.

As one of New Jersey's best-kept secrets — but the state is looking to get the word out — a unique program has handed out more than $192 million to these families since 1989.

"We receive about 50 applications a month. We also acknowledge that the fund isn't well known across the entire state," said Christian Heiss, executive director of the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund.

The fund serves as a financial safety net for families whose children have an illness, injury or condition that's exhausted all other resources, including fundraising. Last fiscal year, the fund approved 512 applications out of 627 received, including appeals.

"On average, we pay about $7 million per year in medical bills," Heiss said. "An average family gets about $17,000 from the fund."

Last year's financial awards ranged from $250 to more than $112,000. The fund typically pays the provider that has billed the family.

The fund is not just for the poorest families. This year a family with income of more than $758,000 applied. Last year, the top income for an applicant was $882,000. In 2012, the income range topped out at more than $957,000.

Eligibility hangs on three main factors:

  • The child must have been younger than 22 years old when the medical expenses were incurred.
  • The family must have lived in New Jersey for at least three months immediately prior to the date of the application.
  • Expenses must exceed 10% of the family's income up to $100,000, plus 15% of income over $100,000.

Heiss said families interested in the program should not be discouraged by the word "catastrophic" in its name. That adjective refers to the impact of medical care costs, not to any specific illness or condition. As an example, Heiss said a family could be eligible if a child breaks a bone while both parents are out of a job.

"We'd love more New Jersey folks to know about this program and tell their friends in New Jersey about it as well," Heiss said.

Interested residents can apply online or call 1-800-335-FUND for information and an application.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.