TRENTON - New Jersey is among five states that do not require low-income people to pay money toward their prescription drugs, hospital visits and other services.

That may soon change.

Gov. Corzine's administration has proposed charging co-payments to Medicaid recipients to help raise $12 million for the cash-strapped state budget.

The co-payments would be $2 for prescriptions, $3 for outpatient hospital visits and medical day care, and $6 for nonemergency visits to hospital emergency rooms.

Legislators are decrying those plans. At a budget hearing yesterday, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D., Middlesex) said studies showed that such co-payments prompted poor people - especially senior citizens, the disabled and the mentally ill - to forgo health care.

Kelley Williams of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey and the New Jersey Alliance for the Homeless said disabled people receiving federal financial assistance already did not have enough money for housing and groceries.

"Charging co-pays from a person who has no income for medical care or for prescriptions is a travesty," she said.

Acting state Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez told senators that the co-payment proposal was "among the toughest of budget choices," but that it was an alternative to cutting benefits such as prosthetics, hearing aids and eyeglasses.

"Because we certainly do not want people to forgo health care," Velez said.

She said the department's budget did not have room to absorb the cost, contrary to a suggestion by Sen. Anthony Bucco (R., Morris).

Marie Verna, advocacy director for the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, said that "no amount of savings is worth the suffering these proposals will cause."

Medicaid is a federal-state program that pays for health care for poor people. It's the largest social-services program in state government, serving more than one million people and costing the state $3.7 billion next fiscal year.

Only Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Texas and New Jersey do not charge Medicaid recipients co-payments, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care.