The Senate budget committee moved ahead on Monday with a package of bills replicating several aspects of the Affordable Care Act, meant to shield against the uncertainty of federal health care.
Members of the committee voted unanimously to approve most of the measures, several of which were widely popular under the ACA, more commonly referred to as Obamacare.
“If the courts at the federal level were to overturn or repeal certain parts of the Affordable Care Act, then these statutes would be put in place,” Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, said when introducing the bills.
In December, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the ACA individual mandate is unconstitutional because Congress took out the penalty during the 2017 tax cuts.
The bills come as the Murphy administration tries to ramp up a state-based, Obamacare-style marketplace. Many were introduced or backed by the governor’s office, and are expected to see his signature. Six of the bills need only a full floor vote – likely at the Senate voting session on Jan. 9 –before heading to the governor’s desk.
In 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy approved an individual health care mandate, and for the fines collected from its violations to finance a “high-risk pool” for the state’s more expensive patients. Then in March, the governor announced the formation of the health plan marketplace, which will begin offering plans this fall for enrollment in 2021.
Bills, bills, bills
One measure, Senate Bill 626, would bar insurance companies from excluding anyone from their policies because they have a “preexisting condition.” That popular aspect of the ACA could find itself struck down in federal courts.
Senate Bill 3802 would require coverage for children up to the age of 26, while Senate Bill 3812 would require insurance companies to invest at least 85 percent of money collected from customers into health care benefits, and not profits.
Senate Bill 562 would require that all health plans cover the “10 essential health benefits” laid out in the ACA, such as ambulance and emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse disorders, and preventative screening.
Senate Bill 3808 would ban so-called “basic and essential health plans,” which are typically lower-cost and provide skimpier health coverage. Senate Bill 3809, gives the state the authority to review health insurance hikes over a certain threshold.
Finally, Senate Bill 3803 would require health insurers to cover certain preventive services at no cost to the patient, including mammograms and vaccinations.
“We cannot leave the health and safety of our citizens up to the whims of the White House,” Senate Health Committee Chair Joe Vitale, D-19th District, said in a Monday statement. This legislation is a commitment to our residents and an assurance that our state will do everything we can to make sure New Jerseyans are healthy, safe and able to afford health care.”