N.J. officials attempt to take back control of health insurance marketplace with signing of two bills

Trenton, New Jersey - State Capitol Building

The goal of state officials to take back control of the health insurance marketplace may have been reached Wednesday, when Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills dealing with coverage.

The bills, from Sens. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown), protect the individual mandate and create a reinsurance program at the state level, the latter of which was a key to creating competition when the Affordable Care Act first launched.

“Protecting the viability of the individual mandate is needed to maintain a foundation for the insurance market and to allow the success of the ACA to continue,” Vitale said in a statement. “New Jersey has benefited from the health care law, and we want to see that those benefits continue. It has made health care more affordable and more accessible, especially for those in need.”

Vitale and Singleton sponsored the Senate versions. Assembly members John McKeon (D-Madison), Carol Murphy (D-Cinnaminson) and Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees) sponsored the Assembly versions.

“President (Donald) Trump’s efforts to destabilize the health insurance market will only lead to higher costs for New Jersey residents unless we take common sense action to preserve the benefits the Affordable Care Act has been providing to our residents,” McKeon said in a statement. “We cannot stand idle as our residents are put at risk.

“We fought long and hard to get more people insured in New Jersey, because it’s both fiscally and socially responsible. We will continue that fight because it’s the right thing to do.”

New Jersey saw a decrease in charity care funding for hospitals as more insured residents turned up at hospitals around the state.

The ACA saw 800,000 additional residents get coverage, including 500,000 who qualified for the expanded Medicaid coverage under Gov. Chris Christie. Some of those people may lose their coverage.

The bill will reinstate the individual mandate, which is in place at the federal level but does not include a fee for those who decline coverage.

The state will collect the fee the same way it does income taxes, and it will consider religious and economic hardship exemptions.

“Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans rely on the ACA to get the comprehensive medical coverage they need and deserve,” Gov. Murphy said in a statement. “These laws will ensure that the necessary infrastructure remains in place for the ACA to thrive.”

Singleton echoed a similar sentiment.

“The federal tax law recently adopted by President Trump included the upcoming repeal of the individual mandate,” Singleton said. “The consequences of that decision will usher in an era of higher health insurance costs for everyone and lower health coverage rates. We want to protect New Jersey from the negative impact.”

For the second bill, in order for the state to start a reinsurance program, the commissioner of banking and insurance has to apply for a federal waiver of provisions of the ACA in order to then control premiums in New Jersey.

It would establish a board that would work with the state insurance commissioner to design the plan, according to a statement from the Legislature.

“The ACA’s ‘Section 1332 waivers’ offer a promising avenue for states to create reinsurance funds to bring more stability and certainty to a marketplace that has been undermined by the Trump administration, driving up consumer costs,” Vitale said. “We seized the opportunity to take the actions available to hold down expenses for services that improve health care for middle class families and others.”

The plan would include a way to collect reinsurance monies in a newly created fund under the Treasury Department.

“The Republican effort to threaten health care for hard-working families is unconscionable,” Lampitt said in a statement. “We will take whatever efforts are necessary to ensure our citizens get the coverage they deserve.”