Senate passes health exchange bill

Senate passes health exchange bill


A key part of New Jersey’s response to President Obama’s federal health care overhaul cleared the state Senate on Thursday, but its chances of becoming law remain uncertain.

The bill, which passed the Senate with no Republican support, would create an online marketplace to help small businesses and some consumers buy health insurance coverage.

New Jersey has until Nov. 16 to declare whether it will create its own statewide marketplace or will join a federal program instead.

The bill will next be considered by the Assembly. But to become law, it must be signed by Governor Christie, who previously vetoed a similar bill and has not expressed support for the legislation.

Christie vetoed the previous bill in May. He called it “premature,” arguing that the state should not create an exchange until the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.

But after the court ruled in support of Obama’s health care law in June, Christie said he wanted to wait until after the November election to decide whether to create a New Jersey insurance marketplace.

On Monday, the governor maintained that creating a statewide exchange is ultimately his decision, and he plans to take his time.

“I won’t make a decision until I have to. I don’t have to make one until the 16th, so I want to make sure I’m as fully informed as I can be,” he said. “That’s ultimately our call. It’s an executive branch call and we’ll make the call.”

On Thursday, the bill passed 21-17 as senators debated whether creating a state health insurance exchange was the right choice.

“It is vitally important for New Jersey to make sure that it has a state-run exchange,” said Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, one of the bill’s sponsors. “A federally imposed exchange still requires taxpayer money, and it removes the regulatory power of the state over the marketplace.”

But Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, argued that the bill “creates a parallel infrastructure that’s going to be unresponsive” to patients.

The health insurance exchange is not designed to work with systems already in place in the state, he said, so it would create needless inefficiencies.

“Choosing insurance is a tremendous responsibility, and we are delighted to assist in that process. We consider your needs personally, and intelligently.”