Business Community Split On Christie's Veto Of Health Exchanges

NJBIZ — Thursday, May 10, 2012

Andrew Kitchenman

The state's largest employer supported Gov. Chris Christie's veto of the New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act, as the New Jersey Business & Industry Association said the bill would be costly and limit options for small businesses.

The veto comes after months of lobbying in the Statehouse over the measure, which counted Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Delran), a medical doctor, and Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) among its sponsors.

"We think the governor did the right thing," said Christine Stearns, NJBIA vice president of health and legal affairs. "The bill fell short of what we needed in order provide small employers with another option that was going to provide affordable coverage. It was going to be bureaucratic — it didn't meet our needs."

The NJBIA supported having a state-run exchange rather than a federally overseen exchange. However, the group opposed the authority given to the exchange board, which it said would limit the number of insurers that would participate.

Christie said it would be prudent to wait to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the federal health care reform law. The court is deciding whether to invalidate the mandate in the law to require Americans to buy health insurance — and, if it does so, whether to overturn the entire law.

"Because it is not known whether the Affordable Care Act will remain, in whole or in part, it would be imprudent for New Jersey to create an exchange … before critical threshold issues are decided with finality by the court," Christie wrote in his veto statement, released today.

The NJBIA agreed with this reasoning.

"This is a time of great uncertainty," Stearns said. "Until we see what the Supreme Court does with the pending case, it does seem prudent to wait."

But another business group, the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, supported the bill, and expressed its disappointment with Christie's veto. The group includes small-business owners and is supported by New Jersey Citizen Action, a government watchdog group.

Alliance spokesman Jeff Brown said his group's members preferred the bill's version of an exchange. He said it included elements that were similar to the exchange in Massachusetts. He cited the 1.8 percent increase in health costs for that state's exchange last year as a sign that a similar exchange in New Jersey would control costs. He contrasted that with a health insurer-overseen exchange in Utah that saw higher costs.

"I think it's clear why they support a robust exchange that can really negotiate on their behalf," Brown said.

Brown speculated that national Republican opposition to the federal law affected Christie.

"Unfortunately, national politics reared their ugly head and ruined something that was incredibly pragmatic" in New Jersey, Brown said.

An administration spokesman declined to respond to Brown's criticism.

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