TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday vetoed legislation that would set up a state health insurance exchange as part of President Obama’s health care overhaul, saying the state shouldn’t rush to enact such a law and possibly create new burdens on taxpayers while the constitutionality of the federal act has yet to be decided.
“Because it is not known whether the Affordable Care Act will remain, in whole or in part, it would be imprudent for New Jersey to create an exchange at this moment in time before critical threshold issues are decided with finality by the court,” the Republican governor said in announcing his veto.
The state legislation would have established an online marketplace for the middle class to buy federally subsidized health plans starting in 2014.
The governor said he intends “to fully oversee New Jersey’s compliance in a responsible and cost-effective way” if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the overhaul. A decision is expected in June.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, a Democrat and lead sponsor of New Jersey’s bill, and a physician, said the governor had put “national political pressures ahead of the well-being of New Jersey.”
Mr. Christie has become one of the nation’s most high-profile Republican governors and was courted as a potential presidential candidate. After declaring he wouldn’t seek the nomination, he threw his support behind Mitt Romney, and is still considered a possible vice-presidential candidate, though he has said he probably wouldn’t be a good fit for that position. Mr. Romney has said he would repeal the health care law if elected
Mr. Christie is only the second governor to veto legislation establishing a state insurance exchange. In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez, also a Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have set up an exchange, citing cost concerns and legal challenges.
The Obama administration refused to address Mr. Christie’s veto directly.
Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erin Shields said the administration is confident New Jersey residents will have access to a health insurance exchange on Jan. 1, 2014, as called for in the federal law.
At least 10 states have passed bills to set up insurance exchanges, and two, New York and Rhode Island, have done so through executive orders, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than a dozen other states have legislation pending.
The states are all in various stages of preparation for the overhaul.
The exchanges represent half of the president’s strategy for expanding coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people, including 1.3 million in New Jersey. Low-income people would be covered through expanded Medicaid programs.
Mr. Christie’s decision “is consistent with what a lot of other states have done, which is to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Sabrina Corlette, who directs research on insurance issues at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.
“Unfortunately for New Jersey, assuming the Supreme Court upholds the law, the veto will make it more difficult for them to [set up] their exchange, since there would be much less time to do it,” she said.
States have a Jan. 1, 2013, deadline for Washington to approve their plans for the new health insurance markets, or else the federal government can come in and run things.
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