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NJ Senate leader proposing new health care approach for public employees

 Senate President Steve Sweeney, joined by doctors and public employee union representatives, announces his proposal for pilot health care program (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Senate President Steve Sweeney, joined by doctors and public employee union representatives, announces his proposal for pilot health care program (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Better health care at a lower cost could be I the cards for New Jersey teachers as well as state and local government workers.

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney wants to begin a pilot program that he says could result in just that.

Up to 60,000 workers who decide to participate in the program would not pay any out-of-pocket fees or deductibles when they visit primary care physicians, Sweeney said. Those doctors, who would be paid a monthly fee, would be limited to 1,000 patients.

Dr. Jim Holton, a Medford primary-care physician, called it an exciting concept that would improve patient outcomes.

“It’s not a good feeling, as an internist, to see your 80-year-old mother come in with congestive heart failure and diabetes every three months and I spend nine to 12 minutes with her,” he said. “It is satisfying to get 90 minutes with a patient like that to coordinate all kinds of care.”

The other goal would be to cut costs, Sweeney said.

“Eighty-four percent of health care dollars are spent on chronic illnesses like diabetes, and heart disease, and high blood pressure,” he said. “They’re all treatable if they’re managed properly, and that’s part of the focus of the process that we’re trying to get to here.”

Some of the state’s largest public employees unions offering support for the idea.

Before it could be implemented, however, the pilot program needs approval from the two committees administering public employee health coverage.

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