Assembly Panel Approves Health Insurance Exchange Bill

The New Jersey State House (Photo credit: Marion Touvel)

The New Jersey State House (Photo credit: Marion Touvel)

TRENTON – An Assembly panel approved legislation today to implement an important component of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill, A-3186 would establish a health insurance exchange, creating access to insurance for both consumers and small businesses.

“This is a major step toward our goal of providing quality and affordable health care to everyone in our state,” said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “In the long-run, it will improve lives and save money by providing access to much-needed preventative care instead of costly emergency room visits.”

The bill’s sponsors said the legislation would also position New Jersey to help working people and small businesses receive millions of dollars in available federal tax credits and subsidies. Approval of the legislation comes on the heels of a new WNYC/Rutgers-Eagleton Poll that shows that 63 percent of New Jerseyans now support the federal health care law.

According to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in the last year, 29 states received over $700 million in grants to establish health insurance exchanges, which will give American families and small businesses a wide-range of health insurance options through competitive health care marketplaces. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law will reduce the number of uninsured by 32 million by 2019 while reducing the deficit by $124 billion during this time period.

Under the bill, the New Jersey Health Benefit Exchange would be established independently within the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) and governed by a board of directors consisting of 10 members.

The board would be in charge of setting up the exchange, facilitating the purchase of coverage under health benefits plans, working with participating employers to enroll their employees in qualified plans, establishing a customer service center, applying for any available federal and private foundation grants, and creating various health plans, including a Basic Health Plan, as required by the federal law, that would enable individuals with incomes between 133% and 200% of the federal poverty level to purchase essential health benefits with the help of federal funds.

“As elected officials, one of the most fundamental obligations we have to our citizens is to ensure their well being,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Ultimately, this exchange will help cap a century-long quest to provide access to quality health care for everyone in this country.”

Eligible employers would include, beginning no later than January 1, 2014, employers with at least two but not more than 50 employees, and beginning no later than January 1, 2016, employers with at least 51 but not more than 100 employees; and, may include, beginning on January 1, 2017, employers with more than 100 employees.

New Jersey must have a working exchange by January 2014 to comply with and capitalize on the national healthcare reform law.

The bill was approved 6-4 by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee and now awaits final legislative consideration by the full Assembly.

A similar measure (A-2171) had been passed by both houses of the legislature earlier this year, only to be vetoed by Governor Christie, citing a pending Supreme Court ruling on the federal law. In June the high court upheld the law as constitutional, paving the way for states to begin implementation.

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