New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a second-term Republican who has called President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul a “failed federal program,” is benefiting from it in his fiscal 2016 budget.
The state will spend $150 million less on charity care for uninsured patients next year, Christie said Tuesday at a town-hall meeting in Somerville. The expansion in Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare has led to a 43 percent drop in the number of uncompensated hospital cases, he said.
“Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey,” he said during the 90-minute session in an elementary school gym. “It’s helping to save us money. Our state taxpayers are seeing more federal dollars and we’ve also added more people covered so they don’t go for their primary care in a hospital emergency room.”
Christie, 52, has formed a federal political action committee to finance travel and raise visibility ahead of a possible White House run in 2016. Back home, he is dealing with record-low approval ratings as the state’s economic recovery lags behind the nation’s.
The Somerville event was his 130th since taking office, and his third in less than two weeks. The gatherings are an opportunity for Christie to pitch his agenda to mostly friendly crowds during the workday. The governor is trying to gain support for his plan to curb pensions and benefits for state workers.
At a South River town-hall meeting a year ago, Christie called Obamacare a “failed federal program.” During the Somerville gathering, he never called the program by name, only referring to it as the “Medicaid expansion.”
Christie had refused to establish a state-run health exchange, leaving the task to the federal government. Then in 2013, he agreed to expand the state’s Medicaid program, known locally as FamilyCare. Since then, more than 390,000 uninsured New Jersey residents have enrolled in Medicaid through FamilyCare and another 250,000 have secured private health insurance through the federally-operated marketplace, according to state budget documents.
During a budget briefing with reporters last month, Christie’s treasurer, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, said that the “dramatic reduction in documented charity-care clients” and the Affordable Care Act enrollments were “an opportunity to realize some state savings.”
“It’s been a blessing for providing appropriate care to our most vulnerable populations,” the treasurer said.