Asbury Park Press


Asbury Park Press — Thursday, December 6, 2012

By Michael Symons / Capitol Quickies

Gov. Chris Christie today, for the second time, vetoed a bill approved by Democratic lawmakers that would have established a state-run health insurance exchange in New Jersey.

Such an exchange, essentially a marketplace for individuals to buy health-care coverage, is scheduled to go into effect in January 2014. States have until next week to declare if they will create their own exchange, partner with the federal government on an exchange or have the federal government run their exchange.

Today was the deadline for Christie — who was at the White House today for meetings about Superstorm Sandy recovery costs — to act on the bill, which would implement part of New Jersey's version of President Barack Obama's health-care reform law.

Christie's veto means New Jersey won't manage its own exchange in 2014. But he indicated the state could change course in future years, after the state gets additional guidance from the federal government.

In the health benefit exchange veto message, Christie said information about the exchanges, particularly their costs, has been missing or erratic. For instance, he said states don't know whether the federal government would share revenues with states from user fees paid by insurers.

"Without clear answers to basic questions, it would be imprudent for New Jersey to implement a state-based exchange at this time," Christie wrote. "My decision today should not be interpreted as foreclosing future consideration on this matter. In fact, the federal government has provided states with the flexibility to amend their exchange selection in subsequent years. Moving forward, I welcome further guidance from the federal government so that New Jersey can make a fully informed decision as to the best course of action for our residents and businesses.

"In short, I will not ask New Jerseyans to commit today to a state-based exchange when the federal government cannot tell us what it will cost, how that cost compares to our other options, and how much control they will give the states over this state-financed option," Christie said. "We will comply with the 'Affordable Care Act,' but only in the most efficient and cost effective way for New Jersey taxpayers. Until the federal government gives us all the necessary information, any other action than this would be fiscally irresponsible."

Though advocates for the exchanges say they attempt to use a free-market solution to reducing the number of uninsured, the exchanges have been a partisan issue with many Republicans opposed to them.

Advocates for the federal health-care reforms criticized Christie's veto.

"Gov. Christie had the opportunity to lead the way on bringing down health care costs for New Jerseyans, but his veto puts the federal government in the driver seat," said Jen Kim, state director for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. "We know our state best and could have taken charge to establish a strong, pro-consumer exchange, now. This veto means less control and more delays."

"New Jersey has always been a leader in health reform and we believe this veto was step backward in that regard," said Jeff Brown, policy and communications coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action. "We are ceding our ability to continue to be a leader by not taking the reins on building a state-based health insurance exchange. While we have no doubt that the federal government will do an exceptional job at establishing a health insurance exchange for us, we still firmly believe that New Jersey knows New Jersey best."

The bill Christie vetoed was approved by the Legislature in October, 21-17 in the Senate and 44-33 with two voting to abstain in the Assembly. It was a slightly modified version of a bill Christie had vetoed back in May.

An estimated 1.3 million residents of New Jersey don't have health insurance.

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