Governor Chris Christie announced yesterday that he supports the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program despite his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Republican New Jersey governor made it clear that the decision was purely a financial one, calling it “the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health.”
Approximately 104,000 currently-uninsured low-income NJ residents will be covered under the government healthcare program, of the over one million with no health insurance in the state. The state stands to save $227 million in the upcoming fiscal year as a result; the federal government will pay 100% of the cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and 90% of the cost afterwards. “Accepting these federal resources will provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans, help keep our hospitals financially healthy, and actually save New Jersey taxpayers money,” according to the governor.
Christie noted that the target of the expansion is adults who previously didn’t qualify for Medicaid because they had no children, people who “are consistently among those who need help the most – men and women who have suffered trauma in their lives, live with mental illness, rely on New Jersey’s emergency rooms for primary healthcare needs, or those citizens who lack insurance or access to treatment.” He also said that a marketing and recruitment campaign would be necessary, funded in part by the federal government, because many of the newly eligible are not aware of the program or their eligibility for it.
Democrats and advocacy groups who had lobbied for the Medicaid expansion applauded Gov. Christie’s decision, which continues a trend of presenting himself as an independent-minded Republican willing to buck the party leadership and display bipartisanship when it suits him. Christie, who described himself as “no fan of the Affordable Care Act” and who earlier in February opted not to establish a state-run health insurance exchange for New Jersey, nonetheless joins seven other Republican governors who have chosen to accept the federal funding and expand their states’ Medicaid programs. In total, twenty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia, currently plan to participate in the Medicaid expansion.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 is intended primarily to reduce both the costs of healthcare and the numbers of Americans living without health insurance. In addition to the Medicaid expansion and the establishment of health insurance exchanges, the ACA includes provisions to require insurance companies to cover all applicants regardless of medical condition and to require individuals not covered by another plan to either purchase an insurance policy or pay a penalty (the “individual mandate”), among others. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the number of uninsured residents of the US will be reduced by 27 million once all the statute’s provisions have taken effect in 2019.
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