Health care losing to politics

Posted: May 17, 2012

Burnishing his political credentials among the Republican right wing may be the only logical explanation for Gov. Christie’s blocking the creation of state health-insurance exchanges, which would aid not only the 1.3 million New Jerseyans without coverage, but also small businesses and people who don’t have enough medical insurance.

Choosing politics over policy, Christie has caved to party extremists who were calling the exchanges “Christiecare.”

The term served as a loosely veiled threat to a potential running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has his own problems trying to escape references to “Romneycare,” the affordable-health-care plan he created as governor of Massachusetts.

As Romney’s chief booster in New Jersey, Christie obviously felt he couldn’t be caught enabling an Obama administration program, even if he’d already accepted millions of dollars in federal planning grants to do so.

So the flash-and-dazzle governor cloaked himself in prudence and said the state should wait until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of national health care before moving ahead.

He may have calmed the shrill voices of some in his party, and scored some points for himself, but the governor’s job is to attend to the needs of the people of his state. And a March poll of New Jersey residents ages 18 to 64 by the AARPfound that 90 percent want the governor to ensure citizens’ access to affordable health-care coverage.

Among the 1.3 million New Jerseyans with no health insurance, 88 percent are adults who are not old enough for Medicare, and most of them have jobs.

That makes Christie’s veto especially puzzling. He talks about wanting to help business, but then does just the opposite by stopping the state’s movement toward affordable health care.

Insurance exchanges are markets where individuals and small businesses can pool their buying power to get better, less expensive insurance. The exchanges would have given small businesses the type of purchasing power big companies have.

Christie’s supposed apprehension about what the Supreme Court may do doesn’t address the fact that New Jersey is in the midst of a health-care crisis. High health insurance costs are draining the resources of citizens, who can’t afford insurance, and hospitals, whose emergency rooms are overburdened by the uninsured. Taxpayers cover the difference.

In his veto, Christie said “the very constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is cloaked in uncertainty.” That may be so, but the need for affordable health care is clear for all to see.

Creating a marketplace where people can find affordable insurance is one part of the solution to a complex problem. A dozen states are creating insurance exchanges, and legislation for one in Pennsylvania is pending.

New Jersey doesn’t need to hear from GOP message makers before it acts in the interest of its citizens who need help now. The governor should stop trying to play a greater role in national political campaigns and stick up for the people at home who can’t afford proper health care.

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