Small Business Owner

New Jersey Citizen Action Supports 'The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act'

Citizen watchdog organization New Jersey Citizen Action supports S1319 — The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act.

Small Business Owner — Thursday, March 1, 2012

As the New Jersey State Senate Commerce Committee prepares to hear testimony on S1319, "The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act," New Jersey's largest citizen watchdog organization, New Jersey Citizen Action, announced support for the bill.

"The clock is ticking for New Jersey, and our health insurance problems are not going away. While the number of uninsured citizens in the state has risen since 2009, so have insurance premiums. For individual consumers and small business owners, the current options are unaffordable and unacceptable," said Jeff Brown, Health Care Campaign Coordinator. "Our state has a problem, and 'The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act' is a big part of the solution to that problem. By protecting consumers, improving accessibility, and promoting competition among insurance companies, this bill can help make the insurance market work for consumers."

Although the idea for an exchange has broad public support, there is much disagreement among stakeholders as to how the exchange should function. "One of the central debates in the exchange planning process is whether or not the governing board will have the ability to negotiate with insurance companies for better prices. With S1319, the board will be required to certify plans on the basis of choice, quality, service, and value, but a comptetive bidding process is not required" said Jeff Brown. "It's a really smart compromise. This way the board has the flexibility to create a certification process that it determines is best for consumers and for the health of the market."

The composition of that board has also been a source of disagreement. "While insurers and the business lobby have been pushing for representation on the board, we've always maintained that the board must be free from conflicts of interest," said Jeff Brown. "With billions of dollars of federal taxpayer money coming into New Jersey to help people buy private insurance, we can't have the insurance companies regulating how that money is distributed. S1319, again offers a good compromise in this regard. The board is comprised of independent experts, but includes the chairperson of the stakeholder advisory council as an ex-officio, non-voting member. It formalizes the stakeholder input process, but maintains the independence of the exchange."

"Regardless of the policy details," added Brown, "the important point is that 'The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act' begins the work of fixing our private insurance market so it benefits consumers instead of the insurance companies' bottom-line, and helps consumers and small businesses take control of their health insurance choices again."

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