Christie vetoes N.J. health exchange bill

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed legislation that would have set up a state health insurance exchange in the Garden State.

    Christie did not want to approve the Legislature’s plan for an exchange so soon before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the federal health law that mandates the exchanges.

    Christie took issue with creating a new Medicaid-like program for adults who earn more than the federal poverty line. He also disliked the $50,000 salary for each board member of the health exchange.

    Steven Lonegan, New Jersey director of Americans for Prosperity and a former candidate for governor, applauded the outright veto. Many had expected a conditional veto, to delay action until after the Supreme Court decision.

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    “The health-care exchange bill would have forced the public option on New Jersey taxpayers,” Lonegan said. “So we’re glad he vetoed it, and we’re certainly glad he vetoed it unconditionally, and now we’ll see what happens with the U.S. Supreme Court.”

    If the federal health law survives the Supreme Court challenge, states must prove they can run their own exchanges by January of 2013 or the federal government could step in and take over.

    Now, advocates for the exchanges worry time might be running out for the state to control the exchange itself.

    Dave Chandra, an analyst with the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., said New Jersey is one of 17 states to publicly say they are waiting on the high court decision to move forward with planning.

    “Many people fear that if you really wait until then to make a decision, you’re really by default making a decision in and of itself,” Chandra sad. “That waiting until July or August, especially if you’re sort of sitting on your hands … that it’s really hard to imagine how a state could get back up to speed and do all the steps it needs to get an exchange up and running and certified by next January.”

    Neither Pennsylvania nor Delaware has enacted laws giving the state power to set up exchanges, but 12 other states have, with an additional two gaining that authority by executive order.

    Nationwide, more than $600 million has been awarded to states to set up the online marketplaces.

    The governor of New Mexico is the only other governor besides Christie to veto exchange-enacting legislation.

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