TRENTON - Gov. Christie on Thursday vetoed legislation establishing a state-run health-insurance exchange, saying the federal government had failed to provide the answers he needed to make a fiscally sound decision on the best way to comply with the Affordable Care Act.
The governor said he had 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," 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 next Friday to decide whether to establish a state-based exchange. They have more time to decide whether to partner with the federal government or let the U.S. run the state exchange.
Health-insurance exchanges are online marketplaces in which uninsured residents can shop for health-care coverage.
Christie, who was in Washington on Thursday to lobby for Sandy aid, issued the veto through his communications office.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D., Burlington), the Legislature's only practicing physician, was among the measure's sponsors. He said the governor could have helped families obtain more affordable health care than is now available by signing the bill.
"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."
Christie's decision was criticized by government watchdog 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, policy and communications coordinator for NJ Citizen Action. "New Jersey has always been a leader in health reform, and we believe this veto was a step backward in that regard."
New Jersey Business and Industry Association vice president Christine Stearns, however, said Christie was correct to veto the legislation because it did not 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," 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."
New Jerseyans pay among the highest insurance premiums in the country, she said.
A Kaiser Family Foundation report shows that the average cost of a family health-insurance plan in the Northeast is $17,099, $1,354 above the national average.