NJ senators advance health insurance exchange

TRENTON, N.J. -- A New Jersey state Senate committee on Monday again advanced a bill to set up a state-run insurance exchange as a way to give uninsured people a way to buy health plans as part of the federal health insurance overhaul.

There's not much doubt that the state's Democrat-controlled Legislature will pass the bill, which is similar to one passed earlier this year.

But Republican Gov. Chris Christie is indicating that he wants to take his time to decide exactly what form New Jersey's exchange _ a requirement of the 2010 federal health insurance overhaul _ should take.

Christie said at a news conference Monday in Dover that he's been meeting with policy experts recently to go over the state's options. "There's a lot of stuff to figure out, lots of different options," he said. "We can run it ourselves, we can run it in partnership with the federal government or we can have the federal government run it. There are consequences financially and operational ramifications that come along with that."

The deadline for a decision is Nov. 16 _ after presidential and congressional elections that could give a clue about the future of overall health insurance changes. Many Republican candidates are pledging to repeal the federal law.

This isn't the first time Christie has advocated a go-slow approach on the issue. In May, he became the second governor in the country to veto a bill to establish an exchange. At the time, he said he wanted to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the constitutionality of the federal law.

Since the court upheld most of the law, he's said the state can wait to see how November's election turns out before proceeding.

There wasn't much debate on the state exchange bill that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on Monday. All four Democrats voted for it; the only Republican present, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, of Demarest, voted no.

Some insurers and business groups oppose the bill.

For a procession of other lobbyists that testified, the main concern was that their interest _ be it the pharmaceutical industry, Latinos, mental-health care providers or others _ have a seat on either the board that runs the exchange or an advisory board.

"A state-run health exchange makes the most sense for New Jersey as it will allow us to provide plans that will best fit our needs," said state Sen. Nia Gill, of Montclair, the bill's sponsor.

She noted that her bill could allow the state to let the federal government manage the state's exchange website.


Associated Press writer David Porter in Dover contributed to this article.


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