POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy vows to ‘push back’ against federal ACA repeal efforts

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Phil Murphy wants to defend Obamacare but admits his options are limited.

“What do we have? An outright assault at us from Washington!” he said at an event on Wednesday.

The governor-elect spoke at New Jersey Citizen Action’s ACA enrollment center in downtown Newark. It’s reporting unprecedented traffic this year, despite apparent efforts by the Trump administration to quash sign-ups.

“They’ve done everything possible to try to strangle this. Insurance companies are reacting to this uncertainty and rates are going up,” he said.

Murphy noted Trump cut the ACA enrollment period in half, slashed its advertising budget by 90 percent and stopped paying subsidies to support low-income enrollees.

“And it’s too easy to blame one guy for this. Certainly, Donald Trump is front and center, but the Republican leadership in Congress is, every step of the way, his partner, and in some cases in health care, he’s climbed onto their train,” said Murphy.

That train rolled forward Tuesday over the objections of protesters in Washington. The Senate Budget Committee voted along partisan lines to approve a tax reform bill that would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, and the administration approves. Trump insists the ACA’s “imploding.”

“The administration can only do so much. We have not been able to address the double digit rate increases and the lack of choices because there’s some underlying fundamental issues with the ACA. It’s just not working, but ultimately, this is something Congress has to act on,” explained the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, at a separate event.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office Wednesday estimated that repealing the individual mandate could boost insurance rates another 10 percent nationwide and leave 13 million people without coverage over the next decade, even if Congress tries to stabilize the market. Murphy promised his yet-to-be-named attorney general would join other states to fight for Obamacare in the courts. He’ll also consider an executive order similar to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s which sets mandatory benefits for health insurers.

But even with that, Murphy said, “I think we have to assume everything is on the table. But let there be no doubt, let no one think otherwise: there’s almost nothing that a state can do that can replace the federal government. The numbers are overwhelming … Job number one is to push back, and hope it doesn’t happen.”

Jersey’s got a lot to lose. About 341,000 residents buy coverage through the ACA’s individual marketplace and 64,000 have enrolled so far for next year. Nationwide, enrollment’s up 47 percent, according to government figures, as people rush to beat the tight Dec. 15 deadline.

“And if we don’t have the ACA I don’t think there’s any way I could afford health insurance, it would be too expensive and I have a pre-existing condition,” enrollee, Jessica Hand, added.

“This was absolutely a life saving program for me and for millions like me. The ACA has literally saved my life.” said enrollee, Nicole Motta.

“So, as you can see, the challenge is really acute this year, as we try to struggle to get the word out to enroll people in a shorter time, and to do it with fewer resources than ever before,” said Maura Collinsgru of New Jersey Citizen Action.

Whether the politics of health care will deal the ACA a mortal blow is unknown. But enrollment continues in the state, at a record pace.