POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy announces intent to set up state-run health care exchange

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Folks in Jersey found it frustrating to sign up for Obamacare through the federal Healthcare.gov portal last fall after the Trump administration cut the enrollment period back from three months to just six weeks and then took the website offline every Sunday. New Jersey enrollment dropped 7 percent. Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday said that wouldn’t happen with a state-run health care exchange, and that he’s filed a letter of intent with the feds to set one up.

“Having our own exchange will allow us to better tailor and regulate our marketplace to the unique needs of New Jerseyans by taking over all aspects, from the website, to support for individuals and small businesses purchasing plans, to open enrollment period dates — which as you know under the Trump administration had been shrunk dramatically,” said Murphy.

“The fact is that because we operate on the federal exchange, we are subject to the whims of the Trump administration and directly impacted by the efforts to damage and destabilize the market,” said New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride.

Murphy said it’ll take about a year to meet regulatory requirements and enact changes to existing statutes, and that the state exchange would be funded by the $50 million New Jersey now pays to use the federal portal. Jersey would join Washington D.C. and 11 other state-based exchanges, including New York and Connecticut. He also said the administration’s working with legislators to protect other health care priorities, including preserving coverage for pre-existing conditions, and for young adults up until age 26 on their parents’ policies and prohibiting lifetime coverage caps.

“This is about individuals like that, to make certain that at least the 9 million people that live here in New Jersey would never be faced with those inequities,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.

If all goes smoothly, Jersey residents could start enrolling through the state exchange in the fall of 2020 for health care coverage that would start in 2021.

Advocacy groups welcomed the news, especially New Jersey Citizen Action, which served as a navigator to help enroll health care participants last year. In other news, Murphy said he’s still short the required votes to pass bills legalizing recreational marijuana. If the measures fail, Murphy’s fallback position is more medical marijuana.

“The team will have no choice but to dramatically open up the medical marijuana license regime because people’s lives are at stake. Beyond that, we’re playing for Monday,” Murphy said.

Under the Murphy administration, the state just approved six new licenses, on top of six dispensaries now open, and increased the number of patients participating by 150 percent. And there’s demand for more. It’s a more palatable idea to one senator who’s a hard “no” vote on recreational marijuana.

“As long as it’s done thoughtfully, slowly and with the medical community, I’m for it,” said Sen. Dick Codey.

The recreational marijuana vote is scheduled for Monday.