Christie vetoes Health Exchange Bill and Nixes Establishment of a State-based Exchange

To the dismay of many Gov. Chris Christie has announced he will not set up a state-run marketplace for health insurance in New Jersey. He just vetoed Senate Bill 2135 which would establish a N. J. health exchange. He cites unknown cost concerns and other uncertainties  a la ARC tunnel.

He continues to view with benign (or malign) neglect the plight of the uninsured. Ironically, for a conservative, who believes the State knows best, he is surrendering New Jersey’s ability to set up an exchange as it sees best. Instead some federal/state collaboration or exclusively federal operation will  be imposed. In his veto message he does not address what he will do regarding Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act.

This may represent a surrender on Christie’s part to the NJ health insurers who prefer the general federal guidelines rather than the more consumer-friendly requirements which other NJ groups have been urging.

He somewhat vaguely leaves open the possibility of reconsidering his decision later. However, his veto of the bill is absolute. He faced a deadline to tell the federal government whether NJ would set  up its own health exchange, and his response sadly was “No.”

Here is the text of his veto message.

Here is an early Statehouse Bureau article.  

Comments (5)

  1. deciminyan

    Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Jr, MD, is the chair of the Health Committee. He’s a practicing physician in Burlington County. Here is his statement on the Governor’s veto:

    (TRENTON) Assemblyman Herb Conaway, M.D.  the lead Assembly sponsor of legislation to create a New Jersey health benefits exchange program to provide access to affordable, quality health insurance – issued the following statement concerning Gov. Christie’s veto today of the bill (S-2135/A-3186):

    “This New Jersey-specific legislation would have coupled strong consumer protections and an open, online marketplace to create a vibrant, competitive exchange to ensure that our state’s uninsured and underinsured families receive the highest quality care for the lowest price. It would have also positioned New Jersey residents and small businesses to receive billions in federal tax credits to purchase insurance.

    “But, for the second time this year, the Governor has stood in the way of that.

    “Health insurance should not be a luxury. Middle class families and small business owners should not have to choose between their health and paying bills.

    “The fact of the matter is that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. Congress enacted it, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, and the New Jersey legislature has tried to implement one of its most important provisions. But the Governor has punted, making it likely that federal officials will be the ones making key decisions on how New Jersey’s health exchange will function.

    “While I look forward to seeing a competitive, vibrant, fully functioning health exchange operate in New Jersey by 2014, I am disappointed that it will not be the version designed and approved by the elected representatives of the people of New Jersey,” said Conaway (D-Burlington).

  2. Bertin Lefkovic

    …while it lasted.

    I had a feeling that this was coming once he announced that Guadagno was going to be his LG when he runs for re-election next year.  Clearly, he is not going to use the opportunity that the post-Sandy goodwill had created for him to take a less partisan approach to governing than he had over the last three years, which would have enabled him to run for President in 2016 on a bipartisan Americans Elect ticket.

    However, as I said on numerous occasions, we would know which Christie we would have going forward once he decided to sign or veto this legislation.  Now we know.  It will be the same Christie that we have always had, who will do what he can over the next few years to rebuild his conservative brand, which was so badly damaged by his nonpartisan governance during and post-Sandy.

    The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the Democratic establishment in the state is going to stand up to him or continue to enable him the way that they have over the last few years.  There has been some talk that Steve Sweeney is going to run for Governor, but I think that is just talk; as much of a smokescreen as the talk about Cory Booker running for Governor next year.  Sweeney is not going to risk his seat and leadership position in the Senate on a gubernatorial run that he most likely cannot win, especially when he will have a much better chance of winning in four years.

    The best chance that the Democrats have to beat Christie is Bob Menendez who would have nothing to lose and everything to gain from taking on Christie.  After Booker, Frank Lautenberg, and maybe Dick Codey, who would never get the blessing of the party bosses, Menendez probably has more name recognition than any other Democrat in the state and won re-election this year in a landslide.  If he were to beat Christie next year, he would instantly become a top Presidential contender for 2016 if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run.

    After Menendez, everything else goes all pear-shaped.  While I love the idea of a contested gubernatorial Presidential election on the Democratic side, creating all sorts of exciting opportunities for progressives to run insurgent legislative candidates throughout the state, I am not entirely sure if that would be the best thing in the long run as Christie is clearly going to have a united front next year and if he continues to poll as well over the next year as he has been, he could have dangerously long coattails in more than enough districts to help Republicans take control of the legislature next year, which would be even worse than his current Christiecratic center-right coalition.

    Something that I read yesterday that I found intriguing was the possibility that my former employer, Bill Pascrell, Jr., who is also one of my least favorite Democratic Congressmen in NJ after Albio Sires, Rob Andrews, and Donald Payne Jr. (OK, so pickings being as slim as they are, I guess one could just as easily say that he is one of my favorite Democratic Congressmen in NJ after Frank Pallone and Rush Holt), could be put forward as a compromise candidate who would be tolerable to both the Democratic establishment and insurgents.

    Believe it or not, I think that Pascrell would be a better Governor than Congressman.  His parochial approach to government is much better suited to state government than federal government and his best quality is his ability to surround himself with great people like Ed Farmer, Brendan Gill, Jacky Grindrod, David Parano, and Joe Waks to name just a few of the people who have made an otherwise mediocre pol into the powerhouse that he has become.

    Also, as much as I think that his reputation as a fighter is more or less bunk, a gubernatorial run would give him a chance to do more than just talk about being a fighter, but actually be a fighter.  Unlike last June when he demolished Steve Rothman, I would relish the opportunity to be proven wrong by Bill Pascrell, Jr. if he can take Christie on next year and beat him.

  3. Bill Orr (Post author)

    U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

    “I’m disappointed in the Governor’s decision to again veto legislation establishing a state based health insurance exchange. When the Governor vetoed the first bill to create a health insurance exchange in May, he cited the uncertainty surrounding the then-pending Supreme Court decision. The Court upheld the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. When the state legislature sent a second version of this legislation to him in October, he cited the uncertainty surrounding the election. The voters overwhelmingly upheld the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. The only uncertainty that remains is the result of the Governor’s action to veto this legislation and further delay a decision about how he envisions the future of our state’s health care system.”

    Senator Nia H. Gill (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and prime sponsor of the “New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act,”

    “The Legislature sent two bills to the governor’s desk that laid out the framework for creating a state-based exchange, one which directly addressed the concerns he expressed.

    “New Jersey should have a state-based exchange. The bill vetoed by the Governor allowed New Jersey to maintain regulatory control over insurance to the greatest extent possible, to respond to market conditions, to ensure competition and to define plans that best meet the needs of New Jersey residents.

    “Now, 440,000 uninsured people hang in the balance as we await the governor’s decision on this critical matter.”

    Raymond Castro, NJ Policy Perspective

    In another setback for a half million low and moderate income New Jerseyans without health insurance, Gov. Christie has again vetoed a bill creating a New Jersey health insurance exchange with strong consumer protections.

    The governor’s veto is the latest in a long line of delays – with ever-changing reasons. The first exchange bill was vetoed so the governor could wait for the US Supreme Court decision; after the court upheld the Affordable Care Act, the governor said he wanted to wait to see if a Romney presidency would successfully dismantle the law. Now the governor says the state has not received enough information from the federal government.

    Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Unless action is taken soon, New Jersey may not be ready to start accepting applications for comprehensive, quality health coverage 10 months from now on October 1, 2013. The governor still has a little time to establish a consumer-friendly exchange that represents New Jerseyans, since the Obama administration extended the deadline for states to decide to establish a state-based exchange until December 14, 2012.

    The governor should work with the legislature to craft a new bill by that date – the 8-day countdown begins now.

    One source of compromise could be that some of the bill’s provisions not take effect until the second year. Alternatively, if the governor feels that New Jersey is not ready to assume all the responsibilities of running an exchange, he can establish a state-federal partnership, which can also include key consumer protections. The governor has until February 15, 2013 to make that decision.

    If the governor does not make a decision, the federal government will step in and implement its own exchange – one that will not include consumer protections, at least in the first year.

    At this point, it is most important that the governor shares his plan for the exchange for public review and that decisions be made as soon as possible. The legislature has been completely transparent with the public; the executive branch has not. New Jerseyans have a right to know the policies that will affect their health care.

    The governor’s office has been studying this issue for two years with federal planning dollars. The state should be reaching out and educating the public about the new opportunities for affordable health coverage by now – but it hasn’t even decided who will run the exchange. Further delay will mean many will not know about the exchange, and fewer uninsured New Jersyans will obtain health coverage. We can’t afford for that to happen.


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