Rhode Island’s Pursuit of “Dependency Portal” Vindicates Gov. Christie’s Veto of Exchange, N.J. Delegation Says

By resisting the health care exchange system included as part of the new federal health care law, Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has put himself in a stronger position to safeguard taxpayer interests, according to key figures in the state’s delegation to the Republicans’ National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Since the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as ObamaCare, remains uncertain, it was prudent for Gov. Christie to insulate his state from federal schemes that could become burdensome and costly over time, delegates said. The exchange system can be described as an online platform where small businesses and uninsured individual can select federally subsidized health care plans.

Christie vetoed a bill that would create an exchange prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding ObamaCare’s individual mandate. But the law could still be repealed legislatively if Gov. Mitt Romney is elected president with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Maria Bua, the former GOP chair of Mercer County, noted.

“It’s certainly a point of pride to see New Jersey taking a stand against bigger and more intrusive government,” she said. “We don’t need to put unelected bureaucrats in charge of our health care, and we don’t need more government dependency.”

State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. described the exchange legislation  Christie vetoed earlier this year as a “badly flawed bill” that could have a severe impact on the quality of health care services for New Jersey residents.

“The bill did nothing other than to expand bureaucracy and create many thousands of dollars in new unneeded positions,” said Kean, who is the son of the former governor. “The bill created a separate branch from the executive branch that raised questions of accountability. The commissioner for the Department of Banking and Insurance wasn’t even included in the decision-making that would impact health care for New Jersey citizens. The bill had a lot of flaws and the governor had the best interests of New Jersey at heart.”

The story is much different in Rhode Island where Gov. Lincoln Chafee used an executive order to implement an exchange system that interlinks health care with a range of social services.  Christie’s approach is much more in line with the policy recommendations of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which favors “patient-centered, market-based reforms.”

Over time, the Center anticipates that the Rhode Island exchange will be converted into a “dependency portal” that expands access to social welfare services like food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

“Rhode Island is leading the nation in the advancement of a larger entitlement culture via its planned expansion of social services through a health benefits exchange, a component of the controversial federal healthcare law,” The Center has argued. “When collecting detailed personal financial and household information from individuals seeking health insurance support, the state intends to be the first to proactively enroll participants in other state programs for which they are eligible.”

Bua, the Mercer County delegate, said the specter of a “dependency portal” should give pause to policymakers in all states.”

“That’s not the direction we should go in,” she said. “There’s more compelling path to reform, and I’m pleased Gov. Christie put the brakes on.”

During his convention speech, Gov. Christie’s combative tone was in marked contrast to Rhode Island politicians’  quiet assumptions that government programs should expand. “They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics. To take on the public sector unions and to reform a pension and health benefit system that was headed to bankruptcy.” Turning to the federal government, Christie said it “has overtaxed, overspent, and over-borrowed a great people into second-class citizenship.”

Diane Spino, a Republican committee woman in East Brunswick, NJ, said ObamaCare was the byproduct of “irresponsible representation.” She favors a “less-bureaucratic” approach to reform that will hopefully become a reality if Gov. Romney prevails in November.

“We’ve reached a point where our elected officials do not even know what is in the bills they pass,” she lamented. “That is certainly true in the case of ObamaCare.”

Spino also said that Rhode Island’s “dependency portal” vindicates Christie’s policy stance.

“We can see now what the exchange can turn into,” she said. “So Christie was clearly right to veto that bill.”

In addition to Christie, Govs. Rick Scott (R-FL), Scott Parnell (R-AK), Susana Martinez (R-NM), Rick Perry (R-TX), Bob McDonnell (R-VA), Nikki Haley (R-SC), and Bobby Jindal (R-LA) have also said that they will not move forward with the exchange system.

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