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New Jersey Governor Supports Medicaid Expansion

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
February 26, 2013 -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the eighth Republican governor to throw his support behind an expansion of Medicaid last week.

"Refusing these federal dollars does not mean that they won't be spent," Christie said in his budget message. "It just means that they will be used to expand health care access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else. 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."

The governor said that New Jersey, which already has a generous Medicaid program, will save about $227 million in fiscal 2014.

"Let me be clear, I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act," Christie added. "I think it is wrong for New Jersey and for America. I fought against it and believe, in the long run, it will not achieve what it promises. However, it is now the law of the land. I will make all my judgments as governor based on what is best for New Jerseyans ... In this instance, expanding Medicaid by 104,000 citizens in a program that already serves 1.4 million is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health. If that ever changes because of adverse actions by the Obama administration, I will end it as quickly as it started."

Beyond the 104,000 people who will become newly eligible for the program next year, state officials say that another 200,000 people who were already eligible under the current Medicaid program also will probably sign up.

In the past two months, several GOP governors have said that they would sign up for the expansion. The federal government will provide all of the financing for the newly eligible people next year and phase that down to 90 percent by 2020.

Other Republican governors who are pushing their state legislatures to expand Medicaid are in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio.

In Virginia, state lawmakers over the weekend created a commission that could potentially lead to an expansion of Medicaid in the future.
Christie, a pragmatic Republican who is viewed as a possible future GOP presidential nominee, had earlier decided not to partner with the federal government on an exchange but said he would cooperate and support federal officials' efforts in the state.

Consumer advocates were thrilled.

"This is the second 'hallelujah' moment of the past week," Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that supports the expansion, said in a statement. "With this decision, Governor Christie, like Governor Scott of Florida and six other Republican governors, has chosen to put the interests of his constituents above partisan politics."

Pollack said that Christie may have been convinced by arguments that expansion would reduce the number of people who can't afford health care, increase job growth, and strengthen the state's economy.

Another advocate—Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now—called the announcement "momentous." Rome said the decision "sends a powerful message to every Republican governor and state lawmaker that it's time to stop playing games with people's lives and to fully participate in Medicaid."

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers used Christie's statement as a cudgel to lobby Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to back an expansion. Corbett said earlier this year that he was not prepared to recommend an expansion.

House member Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa., joined state Democratic lawmakers and the seniors' group AARP in calling on Corbett to support broadening the program in Pennsylvania.

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