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For N.J. lawmakers in Trenton and Washington, a front-row seat to bumpy Obamacare rollout

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Washington's efforts to publicize the rollout of the insurance exchanges created under the new health care law have stalled, thanks to the government shutdown. But in New Jersey, lawmakers are doing what they can to educate residents about the Affordable Care Act.

State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), a member of a Democratic task force on implementing the insurance exchange, was at a kickoff event this morning in East Orange where residents could sign up and get information on the ACA.

Gill said the event was promising, as it was "very well attended."

She said the task force will be evaluating health policy and making recommendations for changes going forward. That includes an effort to adopt a state-based system in the future. In New Jersey, as well as in many other states, the federal government is running the exchange for the state.

"The sooner we become a state-based exchange, the better our chances will be of receiving significant federal funding," Gill said.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), chairman of the Senate health committee, agrees that New Jersey should've opted for a state-based exchange. But he thinks the lack of useful public information coming out of the governor's office has made today's implementation seem like "the state's best-kept secret."

"The state has an obligation to promote this, and they haven't," Vitale said.

But state. Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge), also a member of the legislative task force, doesn't think it matters who runs the exchange. Either way, he says, Obamacare is a mess.

"Whether we had opted for a (state-based) exchange over the federal exchange, I'm not sure it would have made a difference, given that the whole system is already in shambles," Thompson said in an email.

In Washington, Obamacare's big coming-out party has been overshadowed by gridlock.

After Congress failed to reach an agreement last night over a spending plan for the new fiscal year, the U.S. government was forced to shut down today. House Republicans in strong opposition to the new health care law have tied the spending bill to an attempt to either delay or defund it, creating the stalemate.

New Jersey's representatives in Congress are no exception to the partisan struggle.

While U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) claims he's "deeply disappointed that President Obama and the Senate refused to come to the negotiation table and failed to fund the federal government," U.S. Rep. Rush Holt blamed the House's Tea Party delegation for the shutdown.

"We had an election in this country less than a year ago," Holt said in a statement. "The Tea Party ran on a platform of repealing Obamacare. Voters heard the idea, considered it, and rejected it. Yet now, extremists are choosing to shut down the entire government out of hatred for a bill that, very simply, helps families afford health care."

But the call to end Obamacare isn't just coming from Washington.

Last month, Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Flemington) introduced a resolution urging Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether, claiming that the "vast majority of Americans" want it scrapped and that it was bad for business.

"The reason people want the act repealed is because it will damage our fragile economy and deprive many middle-class Americans the ability to earn a living wage," Peterson said in a statement at the time.

Peterson's resolution will be sent to the appropriate Assembly committee when the Legislature returns to session.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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