"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Christie does the right thing



It really appeared to be a no-brainer. The state's poorer residents would get medical coverage through an expanded Medicaid program, on the federal government's dime, but the governor was remaining mum on the issue.

He'd already vetoed the creation of a public health-care exchange -- another provision of the Affordable Care Act, Obama's effort at universal health coverage -- and conservatives had been hoping Christie would do the same with Medicaid expansion.

In the end, however, Chris Christie made the right call, expanding Medicaid as part of a proposed $32.9 billion state budget unveiled today.  In his budget speech, Christie said:
After considerable discussion and research, I have decided to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. While we already have one of the most expansive and generous Medicaid programs in the nation, including the second highest eligibility rate for children, we have an opportunity to ensure that an even greater number of New Jerseyans who are at or near the poverty line will have access to critical health services beginning in January of 2014.
As New Jersey Policy Perspective has been pointing out, Medicaid expansion could provide coverage to more than 300,000 New Jersey residents who currently lack insurance, with federal money -- about $2.5 billion on average annually – coming into the state to expand coverage.

The NJPP numbers are similar to those in a study by the Urban Institute and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation last year, a report that said expansion would provide new health care coverage to an estimated 291,000 in New Jerssey through 2022.
New Jersey would spend an additional $1.5 billion and receive $15.4 billion from the federal government to finance the expansion during that time period, the report predicted.
Christie is the latest Republican governor to take the federal money, even though the party's national base remains staunchly opposed to all facets of so-called Obamacare. Christie, in fact, said he still opposes Obama's health legislation.
I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act. 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 and I will make all my judgments as governor based on what I believe is best for New Jersey.
His logic -- like that of other Republican governors -- is faulty. If it is wrong, then leave the money on the table and continue to fight its implementation. But Christie also understands the politics of the situation better than most. He is the popular red governor of a blue state, and leaving federal money -- cash designed to help the most vulnerable in New Jersey -- on the table while slashing spending would leave an opening that could be exploited by his opponents. So his best option is to move toward the center. But unlike his other "compromise measures" -- the minimum wage conditional veto, the counter offer of an expanded earned-income tax credit and his gun study panel -- this one is going to have real-world benefits for residents of the state.

That has elicited praise from an array of folks who usually find themselves at odds with the governor.
New Jersey Policy Perspective, which has been very publicly advocating on behalf of the expansion, praised Christie -- something that it rarely does. Senior Policy Analyst Raymond Castro said in a written statement:
Despite opposition to the expansion from conservative factions of the national Republican party, Gov. Christie – much like he did in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy – has demonstrated the leadership and independence of a governor who is willing to place the interests of New Jerseyans above partisan politics by opting to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

His commendable decision is truly a win-win-win: it will improve the health of hundreds of thousands of struggling New Jerseyans, boost the state’s ailing economy as a result of the influx of billions of dollars in federal funds, and save the state billions of dollars over the next decade.
And several Democratic Senators -- among them Joe Vitale of Middlesex County and Nia Gill of Essex County -- expressed support for that portion of the budget. The rest -- well, Christie's spending plan remains anathema to Democrats. (More on that in coming days.)

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