Lawmakers slam Christie, business advocates over health exchange veto
Two Democratic lawmakers came out in defense of the New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange Act today, touting it as a business-friendly measure one day after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill because of uncertainty over federal reform efforts.
In a conference call with reporters, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-West Windsor) criticized Christie for blocking the bill, which called for setting up an online marketplace for health insurance. But they also questioned the position of business association leaders, who said they supported the veto because it would limit policy options for small businesses.
Wisniewski, who owns a law practice, said the bill is appealing to small-business owners because it provides "a marketplace where I'm going to be able to … compare apples to apples on insurance" and "competitively obtain" a policy for his firm. He said the New Jersey Business & Industry Association's support for the veto was "mystifying," noting he is a member of the association.
"We have people that represent the New Jersey business community essentially saying they would rather have New Jersey be subject to rulemaking done in Washington, than create a law that allows us to tailor health care to New Jersey needs," Wisniewski said.
Christine Stearns, NJBIA vice president of health and legal affairs, said Thursday that the group did support having a state-run exchange over a federal exchange, but that the bill didn't meet its needs. NJBIA spokesman Christopher Biddle reiterated that stance today, noting that "we don't want the legislation to limit the number of health plans that can be included. It should be a clearinghouse."
The federal Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires states to set up health care exchanges. But the sweeping federal law is now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, prompting Christie on Thursday to block the creation of the exchange until a ruling is made.
In the conference call today, Holt echoed Wisniewski's comments, saying the bill would improve access to health care and keep down costs for small businesses. He said businesses would be better off if the state set up its own exchange, adding that the federal government has given the state millions of dollars to do so.
"This would make sense (and) should be in place regardless, of what's happening on the national scale," Holt said. "There's no reason not to do it."
Wisniewski and Holt arranged to conference call to accuse Christie of letting his national political aspirations influence his veto. A Christie spokesman on Thursday declined to respond to a similar accusation.