New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will agree to expand the state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare on Tuesday.
According to the Newark, NJ-based Star-Ledger, Christie will announce the expansion when he unveils the governor’s new budget in a 3 p.m. speech to a joint session of New Jersey’s Legislature on Tuesday.
Christie joins Florida’s Rick Scott and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell as two Republican governors who have completely reversed course on the issue after rejecting addition Medicaid funds.
As recently as last summer, Christie had suggested that he would refuse the Medicaid expansion. As he told Fox & Friends in July: “Medicaid is pretty well expanded in our state already because of the legacy of previous Democratic governors. So, I don’t think there’s a lot for us to do in New Jersey in that regard.”
Likewise, McDonnell had said in July: “Expanding Medicaid without fixing Medicaid is a terrible idea.”
Christie and McDonnell were both elected in 2009 in the first wave of Tea Party-supported Republican campaigns. McDonnell is leaving office after this year; Christie is widely favored to win re-election.
State Sen. Joe Vitale, a Democrat who is chairman of the New Jersey Senate committee that deals with health care, told the Associated Press that he “had been briefed” on Christie’s decision. Health advocacy groups also said they were told by Christie’s staff of the decision that will cover 300,000 uninsured people in New Jersey.
The Supreme Court, in its Obamacare ruling last year, made Medicaid expansion, which was mandatory in the Obamacare law, optional for the states. However, the federal government attempted to encourage the states to participate by offering to pay 100% of the cost for the first three years, and 90% of the costs thereafter, provided Medicaid eligibility is expanded to include those living within 133% of the poverty line.
In essence, states that accept the federal government’s deal will have the short-term costs subsidized by federal taxpayers. The Star-Ledger notes that New Jersey is expected to receive “$1.7 billion a year” to cover the initial costs. A recent Government Accountability Office report predicted that Obamacare would add $6.2 trillion to the long-term federal deficit.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 states, including the District of Columbia, have now agreed to the Medicaid expansion. Seven of those states are governed by Republicans.
Though once a conservative hero for his tough stances on the state budget and his willingness to confront New Jersey’s public sector unions, Christie has fallen from grace. In late October, he offered effusive praise for President Barack Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, though all Obama had done was visit the area briefly. Many residents are still struggling to rebuild, and face numerous obstacles, including the federal bureaucracy.
Tony Lee and Joel B. Pollak contributed to this report.