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Medicaid expansion clears committee

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The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Tuesday voted to release S-2644, a bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state to residents earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. The federal government will pick up the cost of that expansion for three years, and 90 percent of the costs the following three years.

Tuesday's vote was the first legislative step since the bill was introduced in March, just one week after Gov. Chris Christie's announced his support for the expansion in his February budget address.

"While we already have one of the most expansive and generous Medicaid programs in the nation, including the second-highest eligibility rate for children," Christie said, "we have an opportunity to ensure that an even greater number of New Jerseyans who are at or near the poverty line will have access to critical health services beginning in January 2014."

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), Nia H. Gill (D-Montclair) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck). The Democrats say the expansion could bring an additional $22 billion in federal funds to the state over eight years, and provide coverage to 234,000 currently uninsured residents. Adding those people to the ranks of the insured would save the state some $300 million worth of uncompensated hospital care each year.

Christie, however, cited a lower number in his speech, saying the move would add 104,000 to the rolls. He said the additions would save the state $227 million in fiscal 2014 alone.

While the Medicaid expansion has Christie's support, the governor has decided against setting up a state health exchange or partnering with the federal government to set up the exchange. NJBIZ reported this week that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield plans to launch an online exchange in July. It will operate alongside the federally administered exchange, which will launch Oct. 1.

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