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Assembly Panel Approves Democratic Measure to Create Access to Affordable Health Insurance for New Jerseyans

Conaway, Singleton, Chivukula, Ramos & Wisniewski Bill Would Establish Vital Component of New Federal Health Care Law

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Troy Singleton, Upendra Chivukula, Ruben Ramos, Jr. and John Wisniewski to implement a vital component of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that will create access to affordable health insurance for thousands of New Jerseyans.

The legislation (A-3186) would establish the health insurance exchange component of the federal law, creating access to affordable, quality insurance for both consumers and small businesses. The sponsors said the bill will 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.

“Seniors, college students, people with pre-existing conditions, they have all felt the benefit of the Affordable Care Act already. Now it’s time to implement the most crucial and comprehensive component – ensuring everyone has access to health insurance,” said Conaway (Burlington). “The health insurance exchange is designed to promote choice and make insurance purchasing more value-based by allowing an individual or small business to compare the costs and benefits of various health plans and benefit options.”

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.

“A state health insurance exchange, along with federal tax credits will help bring affordability to New Jersey’s health care industry and put working families back in the driver’s seat with respect to securing health insurance,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “The exchange is designed to promote choice and value by allowing an individual or small business to compare the costs and benefits of various health plans and options, while being part of a large insurance pool, which helps lower rates.”

“This is a major step toward our goal of providing quality and affordable health care to everyone in our state,” said 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.”

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.

“Passing this exchange bill will put New Jersey in a position to capitalize on federal benefits,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “With such information at their fingertips, purchasers will be able to do a better job selecting a health plan that is right for them and their families.”

“As elected officials, one of the most fundamental obligations we have to our citizens is to ensure their well being,” said 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.