NJ governor disappointed with health care ruling

Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday that he is disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld key parts of President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul, but he did not say if he would try to guide New Jersey to buck two key provisions for states under the federal law: expanding access to Medicaid and setting up a new health insurance exchange.

"Today's Supreme Court decision is disappointing and I still believe this is the wrong approach for the people of New Jersey who should be able to make their own judgments about health care," Christie said in a statement. "Most importantly, the Supreme Court is confirming what we knew all along about this law - it is a tax on middle-class Americans."

Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said that the Republican governor did not intend to say more about the topic immediately.

But others on both sides of the debate weighed in.

Democratic lawmakers announced plans to reintroduce a bill that Christie vetoed to set up the insurance exchange that would allow individuals to buy plans.

Lawmakers passed a similar bill, but Christie vetoed it in May, saying at the time, "I intend to fully oversee New Jersey's compliance in a responsible and cost-effective manner should its constitutionality ultimately be upheld by the Supreme Court" and said his administration was working on how to do so.

Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers used the ruling as a chance to renew their push for an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit New Jersey from following any federal law that compels anyone to obtain health insurance or any employer to provide it.

"This is a very sad day for Americans," Sen. Steve Oroho, a Republican from Franklin Borough in Sussex County who is sponsoring the amendment.

One place where the court's ruling Thursday went against Obama was in how it deals with a planned expansion of Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for low-income people.

According to the ruling, states would not lose entire their subsidy if they refused to expand eligibility to anyone making more than 133 percent of the federal poverty limit — or $30,660 for a family of four. That gives states latitude not to expand those programs.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, a Democrat from Woodbridge, said he would like to see New Jersey lower the threshold for eligibility for Medicaid. Currently, families with children can qualify for subsidized health care if they make under 350 percent of the poverty rate.

Currently, people without children have much lower thresholds to qualify.

Vitale said that if Medicaid does not expand in the state, it would push more people into the insurance exchange.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, a Democrat from Delanco, said it's time for lawmakers to pass the exchange soon.

"It's time to get back to work on implementing the health insurance exchange component so that it is best suited to meet the unique needs of New Jersey and its 9 million residents," said Conaway said. "The exchange is the most significant component in ensuring that individuals have access to a health plan they can afford."

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