TRENTON, N.J. — On the same day he visited President Obama at the White House to discuss Superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation establishing a state-run health insurance exchange Thursday.
He blamed the Obama administration for failing to provide the answers he said he needs to make a fiscally sound decision on the best way to comply with the president's health care law.
The governor said he has not eliminated any of the options available to states to comply with the national health care overhaul. But he said it would be irresponsible to choose one over the others without knowing the costs of each.
"New Jersey and all other states still await substantial federal guidance on the functioning of all three types of exchanges," Mr. Christie said in his veto message. "To be sure, the decision of whether to move forward with a state-based exchange can only be fully understood when competitively compared to the overall value of the other options."
States have until Dec. 14 to decide whether to establish a state-based exchange. They have more time to decide whether to partner with the federal government or let federal bureaucrats design and run the state exchange. Many states with Republican governors have said they would not participate in the process, citing their opposition to the law and its potential costs.
Health insurance exchanges are online marketplaces where uninsured residents can shop for health care coverage.
Mr. Christie, who was in Washington on Thursday to lobby Congress and the White House for more Sandy-aftermath aid, issued the veto through his communications office.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, a Democrat and the Legislature's only practicing physician, was among the measure's sponsors. He said the governor, by signing the bill, could have helped families obtain more affordable health care than is now available.
"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," he said. "It would have also positioned New Jersey residents and small businesses to receive billions in federal tax credits to purchase insurance."
Mr. Christie's decision was criticized by government watchdogs groups, but applauded by business representatives.
"The New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act would have provided a consumer- and patient-friendly framework for our state's health insurance exchange, expanded access to affordable private insurance to 400,000 New Jersey residents, and allowed New Jersey to control its own destiny in implementing the Affordable Care Act," said Jeff Brown, spokesman for NJ Citizen Action. "New Jersey has always been a leader in health reform and we believe this veto was step backward in that regard."
New Jersey Business and Industry Association Vice President Christine Stearns, however, said the governor was correct to veto the legislation because it didn't do enough to address the high costs of health insurance in the state.
"Committing to a health insurance market like this one would have subjected employers to uncertain costs, but offered little hope of making health insurance more affordable," Mr. Stearns said. "The exchange in this bill would have been expensive to run and imposed taxes on insurance plans, even if they were not sold in the exchange."
She said New Jersey residents pay among the highest insurance premiums in the country.
A Kaiser Family Foundation report shows the average cost of a family health insurance plan in the Northeast region is $ 17,099 — $1,354 above the national average.