Time to focus on a New Jersey Exchange — Op-Ed

Posted by in Healthcare

The following Opinion ran in the Courier-Post and other Gannet newspapers on Sunday, July 20, 2012. 

By ruling to uphold the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court has done right by the American people.

For the 1.3 million uninsured New Jerseyans, and the tens of millions more across the country who are uninsured or underinsured, this is a tremendous victory.

Now it’s time for us to live up to our obligation at the state level to help provide access to affordable, quality health insurance.

Health care is a necessity. No one should have to choose between their health and paying their bills. This landmark legislation will make quality and affordable health care possible for every New Jersey resident.

Those without access to employer coverage will be able to purchase coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange. Small businesses will be able to purchase coverage through a separate exchange. The exchange is the most significant component in ensuring that individuals have access to a health plan they can afford.

With information on affordable plans available at their fingertips, purchasers will be able to do a better job selecting a health plan that is within their price range. More importantly, working folks and small businesses will be eligible for billions of dollars in available federal tax credits to help subsidize the cost of insurance coverage.

By bringing the security of health insurance to all Americans, national health reform will, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, deliver savings to the federal budget. Here’s why. At this moment, thousands of fellow Americans are receiving uncompensated care at great expense in emergency rooms throughout our country. Those of us with insurance pay more for hospital care as a result. Additionally, state and federal taxpayers provide billions of dollars to hospitals for some of those same uncompensated care costs. That policy ensures that your local hospital will continue to be able to provide needed care and saves valuable jobs.

Insured patients tend to lead more healthy and productive lives because they are able to receive preventive care and chronic disease management without having to rely on expensive emergency room and hospital care to treat preventable conditions like heart attacks and strokes. In short, it’s far cheaper in the long run to provide access to outpatient care than to pay for costly and catastrophic hospital care.

To comply with and capitalize on this law, New Jersey must have a working exchange in place by January 2014.

With the finality of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s time to get back to work on implementing the health insurance exchange component in New Jersey so that it is best suited to meet the unique needs of our 9 million residents.

In March, the Legislature passed a bill that I and Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, sponsored to implement this component in our state. In May, Gov. Chris Christie cited the pending Supreme Court decision when he pulled out his pen and vetoed the legislation.

As elected officials, the greatest obligation we have to our citizenry is protecting their health and welfare. In the 21st century landscape, this is predicated on access to quality, affordable health care.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was designed to create just that.

Congress passed the law. The president signed it. The New Jersey Legislature supports it. The Supreme Court has now upheld it. The only one standing in the way of making it a reality in our state now is Chris Christie.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington, a physician, represents the 7th Legislative District.