It’s been three years since Christie announced he planned to buck his party and embrace President Obama’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. He was one of only a handful of GOP governors to embrace the changes.
The Affordable Care Act picks up the entire cost of additional people covered under Medicaid until the end of this year. In 2017, the state picks up 5 percent of the cost and by 2020, the state will bear 10 percent of the bill.
“It’s still a heck of a bargain,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Senate health committee whom Christie invited to the press conference. “People complain we don’t get enough money from Washington, well, this is our money.”
In 2013, Christie became the eighth Republican governor to align himself with President Obama when he opted to throw his support behind Medicaid expansion under the president’s health care law.
Soon after, during his 2014 budget address, Christie said he was “proud” of his decision to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act but planned to introduce better oversight to the $12 billion program so it can serve the 1.4 million people who rely on it for health care, housing and other services.
In his state budget address that year, Christie took aim at what the medical professionals call “super-utilizers”: the people with chronic health conditions who frequently end up in emergency rooms and get admitted to the hospital.
So far the expanded Medicaid program – financed by the federal government – has saved the state money, said Christie, rejecting the premise of a 2013 report by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, that the ultimate costs would outweigh the benefits. The group estimated New Jersey would be paying $1.2 billion by 2022.
The state has cut $150 million in the pool of “charity care” money it reimburses hospitals for treating uninsured people since the law took effect in 2014.
Raymond Castro of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning research organization, said the state has saved $500 million a year by accepting the federal government’s money.
“My only concern is that they should have used those savings to reinvest in further improving healthcare for New Jerseyans – rather than allocating most of them to the general treasury,” Castro said.
Christie was asked whether his criticism of Obamacare while he was running for president, and Donald Trump’s often-mentioned pledge to scrap the law run counter to his praise of the Medicaid program.
“Not at all,” Christie replied. “The part of Obamacare that I most strenuously object to is the part that’s showing incredible failure now: huge double-digit increases in premiums (and) insurers dropping out of Obamacare exchanges all across the country.”
The Medicaid program, known as NJ FamilyCare, serves 1.7 million low-income and disabled people, of which 566,655 entered via Obamacare.