By Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula
When faced with a Dec. 14 deadline to decide whether to put New Jersey in control of implementing aspects of federal health care reform, Gov. Chris Christie instead chose to relinquish control to the federal government.
As Robert Laszewski, a prominent insurance industry consultant, pointed out in a Dec. 13 article in The Washington Post, “If you believe in states’ rights and you believe in state control, why would you cede that control?”
A longtime critic of the health-care law, Laszewski argued that Republican state leaders have allowed their ideological and political differences with President Obama to override pragmatic considerations, to the detriment of their residents.
Gov. Christie is one such state leader.
Gov. Christie said last year that if the federal law was upheld, he would oversee the state’s compliance “in a responsible and cost-effective manner.” But his veto of the bill passed by the Legislature does exactly the opposite of what he was saying last year.
Gov. Chris Christie has complained bitterly that the administration has been slow to answer questions on critical issues including the cost of running the exchanges. He was quoted saying, after vetoing a second bill passed by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature that would have established an exchange, “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 other options and how much control they will give the states over this option.”
But the Democratic Legislature has warned that the governor’s veto would leave the state scrambling to comply with the federal law and could jeopardize future grant money. It will also keep New Jersey’s uninsured residents from fully benefiting from federal health care reform and the need to provide relief to hospitals for charity care.
While the governor cited the cost of putting the exchange into effect, one must argue that the bigger cost was making it more difficult for so many residents to remain uninsured.
As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez pointed out, “New Jersey taxpayers are on the hook every time someone without coverage shows up in an emergency room, whether it’s for life-threatening treatment or routine medical care.”
The exchange could have been a one-stop shopping for people or businesses seeking health insurance, allowing consumers to compare the benefits and the costs of participating plans. The Web site proposed under the legislation would have allowed people to apply for tax credits or other subsidies toward the cost of insurance.
Gov. Christie not only has failed to create the health exchanges and the ability to oversee it, but he has also ignored the needs of the many uninsured New Jerseyans.