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N.J. Senate Tries Anew on Health Exchange That Met Christie Veto

The Democratic-controlled New Jersey Senate approved legislation to create a health-coverage purchasing pool for the uninsured, after Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure in May.

The bill, passed 21-17, still must go before the Assembly. It would create an online marketplace, called an insurance exchange, required of all states under the federal Affordable Care Act signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2010. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to dismantle the act if elected, and Christie has deferred a decision on an exchange until after the Nov. 6 election.

The exchanges, where consumers may compare providers and buy coverage, are to start operating in 2014. The federal government will establish the markets in states that haven’t created them.

Senator Nia Gill, a Democrat from Montclair who sponsored the bill, said letting the federal government move in may be good for some states, “but not so good for New Jersey.”

Christie, 50, who may run for a second term next year, said the issue has been the topic of staff meetings for six to eight weeks. A decision will be made within the executive branch, he told reporters Oct. 1 at a Dover clinic that provides care to people without insurance.

’New Bureaucracy’

“Ultimately, the Obama health-care plan is the law of the land and we’re working to comply,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of other choice.”

Before today’s vote, Tom Kean Jr., a Republican from Westfield who is his party’s minority leader in the Senate, said the New Jersey bill “creates new bureaucracy” that promises to be unwieldy.

Christie has advocated repeal of the health-care act and said it may benefit a small segment of the population at the expense of the whole. New Jersey has 8.8 million residents, with an average 1.3 million uninsured from 2009 to 2011, according to U.S. Census data.

Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Scott Walker of Wisconsin are among the Republican governors who haven’t established the exchanges, saying they violate states’ rights. Democratic Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire has blocked the market’s creation over fears of taxpayer liability.

Christie vetoed an earlier version of the bill May 10, saying approval would be premature as the U.S. Supreme Court was weighing the federal law’s constitutional merits. The justices voted 5-4 to uphold the act in a decision released June 28.

Christie also had objected to $50,000 salaries for part-time board members overseeing an exchange. The compensation was dropped from the bill passed today.

Thirty-four states have received federal grants to create exchanges, according to a Sept. 27 news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States that miss a Nov. 16 deadline to submit plans will have their exchanges designed by the federal government.

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