Health Insurance Exchange Bill Wins Final Legislative Approval, Awaits Action By Christie

TRENTON – The General Assembly on Thursday granted final legislative approval to a measure sponsored to implement a health insurance exchange, a key component of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act intended to create access to affordable health insurance for thousands of New Jerseyans.

The bill (A-3186), was approved by a vote of 44-33-2, and now awaits action from Gov. Chris Christie. A similar measure (A-2171) had been passed by both houses of the legislature earlier this year, only to be vetoed by Christie, who cited a then-pending Supreme Court ruling on the federal health insurance reform law. In June the high court upheld the law as constitutional, paving the way for states to begin implementation.

“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.”

The Democrats who sponsored the health insurance exchange legislation said the bill will position New Jersey to help working people and small businesses receive millions of dollars in available federal tax credits and subsidies. Approval of the bill 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.

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.

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