TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie announced Tuesday that he would expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to more low-income New Jersey adults as part of President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul — all while making it clear he's "no fan of" the president's program.
Christie made the announcement Tuesday as part of his state budget proposal to a standing ovation in the state Assembly chambers.
"Refusing these federal dollars would not mean that they wouldn't be spent," he said. "It just means that they will be used to expand health care access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else."
Christie left no doubt about his true feelings of the president's program.
"Let me be clear, I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act. I think it is wrong for New Jersey and for America," Christie said.
The decision means that more low-income New Jersey residents can be covered under the joint federal-state health insurance program. If lawmakers agree — and in New Jersey, they almost surely will — the coverage becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2014.
There is not a clear consensus on how many residents will benefit. Christie said 104,000 would be added to Medicaid rolls. But other studies expect that number to grow. The liberal New Jersey Policy Perspective says that about 300,000 of the estimated 1.3 million uninsured residents of the state would be eligible.
Christie had not given many hints about how he would handle the major decision. His path was cleared a bit as seven other Republican governors have endorsed the expansion despite misgivings about the overall health care changes.
Christie emphasized that he's willing to undo the expansion if conditions change. And he reminded lawmakers in his address Tuesday that he has rejected having the state run a health insurance exchange and is instead letting the federal government handle it.
Including New Jersey, 22 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the expansion and 13 states have rejected it. The rest are still considering what to do.
Under 2010 federal law, Medicaid expansion was initially mandatory. But the U.S. Supreme Court made it optional for states.
The federal government offers a major incentive: It has agreed to pay the full cost of the expansion for three years and 90 percent of the cost after that.
"It's a wise decision and it will provide affordable health care for tens of thousands of New Jerseyans," said Sen. Joe Vitale, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate committee that deals with health care. "It's long overdue."