TRENTON - Advocates yesterday said the governor's plans to require copayments from low-income New Jersey residents for prescription drugs and some emergency room visits would hurt the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey highlighted research showing copays in other states made it difficult for as much as 27 percent of psychiatric patients to receive medicine. It found such patients eight times more likely to suffer an adverse incident such as a psychiatric hospitalization, violent behavior or suicide.

"The research is alarming and sadly reinforces our position - Medicaid copays are a huge impediment for those suffering from mental illness who need clinically prescribed medications," said Carolyn Beauchamp, the association president.

Corzine has proposed Medicaid patients pay a new $6 copay on emergency room visits that are not a true emergency, and a $2 copay on prescription drugs. The $2 copay would have a monthly cap of $10 per recipient.

The moves, designed to save $7.55 million, are part of Corzine's proposed $2.9 billion in budget cuts meant to try to fix state finances.

Corzine and legislators must agree to a budget by July 1.

Medicaid pays for health care for the poor, elderly, disabled and low-income families with children. It serves more than one million Garden State residents.

Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said this year's budget proposal requires savings at all levels.

"A nominal copay is the best alternative to enable those who need it to continue to receive these services, and at the same time maintain a balanced budget that will put the state on a path of financial responsibility," Gardner said.

Democrats control the Assembly and Senate.

The copay concern was voiced as Senate Democrats met behind closed doors to discuss the budget proposal and whether to advance proposed changes to taxpayer-paid pensions and health benefits for newly hired public workers.

Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) said no final decisions were made on either issue.