NJ Spotlight

Advocates Urge Use Of Federal Funds To Advertise Insurance Marketplace

Christie accused of playing politics on issue, spokesman says state working on plan with feds.

NJ Spotlight — Thursday, August 1, 2013

By Andrew Kitchenman

NJ Spotlight
Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate for New Jersey Citizen Action, accused Gov. Chris Christie of playing politics with millions of federal dollars that she said should be spent immediately to inform New Jersey residents about the new health-insurance marketplace.

New Jersey healthcare advocates want Gov. Chris Christie to sign off on spending $7.6 million the state's already been awarded to advertise the new health insurance marketplace, but the governor doesn't seem interested in following their plan.

Members of New Jersey for Health Care, a coalition of nonprofits and unions, held a rally at the state Department of Banking and Insurance office in Newark yesterday, saying there is an urgent need for the state to agree to use the federal grant to inform the public about the marketplace or exchange.

The state applied for the money before Christie decided against having a state-operated exchange. State officials have been talking with the federal government for several months over how the money can be spent, and the activists are concerned that the federal government will take back the money if the state doesn't use it to market the exchange.

Some of the criticism leveled against Christie accuses him of putting political motives ahead of state residents' interests.

"He wants to score points with his political base and has put his priorities for a presidential run above the needs of New Jerseyans and New Jersey small businesses," said Corinne Horowitz, a coalition member and business representative of the Main Street Alliance a small-business group.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed didn't respond to the criticism and said talks with federal officials continue.

"We are currently working with the federal government to develop a plan to distribute these funds," Reed said. He didn't refer to the marketplace or exchange in a statement.

The marketplace will be at the website healthcare.gov and will allow residents to purchase insurance and learn if they are eligible for subsidies.

Subsidies will available for residents with income between 138 and 400 percent of the poverty line, which currently amounts to between $15,856 and $45,960 for single residents and between $32,499 and $94,200 for a family of four. Residents with income below that level will be eligible for Medicaid, which Christie opted to expand.

The marketplace will begin enrolling residents on October 1, with health coverage beginning on January 1, 2014.

Federal officials said in a statement that the grant is designed to make sure states have the resources they need to build new affordable insurance marketplaces.

"We continue to work closely with New Jersey to provide the guidance and assistance they need to ensure the marketplace is ready for open enrollment," according to a statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The coalition has become increasingly alarmed alarmed about the small amount of funding available to raise public awareness of the marketplace.

Because the sponsors of the 2010 Affordable Care Act thought that most states would opt for state-operated exchanges, the law provided money for outreach in states with their own exchanges but not for states with federally operated exchanges. The state has been given only $1.5 million for outreach.

"We've got 900,000 people who are going to be newly eligible for coverage and are uninsured — we need to let them know," said Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate for New Jersey Citizen Action, which organized yesterday's rally.

She said state officials haven't responded to the group's entreaties.

"We'd like to work with the state to get the word out, but we have hit a brick wall," Collinsgru said. "Really, the money doesn't belong to the governor, it belongs to the people of the state of New Jersey and he needs to sign the check so we can use the money for outreach."

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