Closer to a health exchange in New Jersey

New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, is offering a first look at how a health-insurance exchange might work in the Garden State.

Legislation he has sponsored would establish a marketplace where residents and small businesses can shop for health coverage.

The exchange is a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Under Conaway’s bill, a board of governors would set rules and decide which companies could sell plans through the exchange. Now, however, there is debate about just how strict those gatekeepers should be.

Conaway has dubbed his plan “middle-of-the-road.”

Jeff Brown, the campaign coordinator for the advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, said he hopes for a governing board with regulatory muscle.

“There could be stronger language giving the exchange more authority to negotiate with insurers to get the highest quality, most affordable options for consumers,” Brown said.

Christine Stearns, who leads health and legal affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said association members are looking for a competitive marketplace.

“We want small employers to have a wide array of choices and, therefore, those health insurance carriers will have to work hard and compete to get the business,” Stearns said.

Conaway’s bill would bar employees of health-insurance or health-care companies from serving on the governing board. The idea is to avoid conflicts of interest. Several critics say that requirement could severely limit expertise on the board.

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