Senate passes amended health exchange act

TRENTON – The Senate passed bill S2135, which calls for creating a health benefits exchange with some amendments.

The vote was 21-17, along party lines, with Democrats, except Sen. Jeff Van Drew, for it and Republicans in opposition.

Sen. Nia Gill, (D-28), Montclair, said there are some 1.3 million residents who lack health insurance. She added that the deadline to set up such an exchange is fast approaching before the federal government sets one up.  

“That is why it is important for New Jersey to have a state-run exchange,” she said.

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, (D-21), Westfield, said the bill “creates new bureaucracies.”

“This creates a parallel infrastructure…that will be very costly. This is not the right bill to right those concerns.”  

Sen. Robert Singer, (R-30), Lakewood, said creating the exchange now would limit the state’s options, because if the federal version is better, New Jersey wouldn’t be able to implement it since it already created its own.

“Why put the cart before the horse?”

But bill co-sponsor Joe Vitale, (D-19), Woodbridge, called that “absurd.”

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the previous one, in part over concerns the Affordable Health Care Act had not yet been ruled on by the Supreme Court. Since then the court has upheld its constitutionality. S2135 is a revised exchange act bill that deletes a provision that would have paid public board members $50,000.

Besides the removal of the salaries, other amendments include:

*Increasing the number of members on the exchange’s board of directors, from eight members to 10 members. They will include seven members appointed by the governor, the commissioners of the Human Services and Banking and Insurance departments, and a member from the 15-member advisory committee.

*Clearer language indicating the advisory committee will consist of a member with experience in addiction services.

*Clarification that the exchange’s executive director’s salary “shall not exceed the compensation of a cabinet level official of the state.”

*Health benefit plans must cover  “community providers” and be given a “generally applicable payment” rate.

*A report must be presented to the governor by Jan. 1, 2015 regarding the status of the health exchange, and any recommendations concerning it.

Gill said the bill would allow exchanges to decide which health insurance plans are offered to New Jersey residents, instead of letting the federal government decide the full implementation of it.

Senate passes amended health exchange act