TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie must speak out against the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would jeopardize the health coverage of 566,000 New Jerseyans on Medicaid, protesters at a Statehouse rally said Monday.
While the Republican governor and confidante of President Trump sat inside his office, nearly 200 protesters -- many from public and private labor unions -- appealed to Christie's desire to leave a legacy of helping to dramatically reduce the number of uninsured people.
"To our governor -- be brave. Stand up to Trump!" said Ann Twomey, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents nurses and other hospital and nursing home employees across the state.
"People are out in the streets, not just here, but throughout the nation because the ACA is actually working. It is providing care to patients that they so need," Twomey said.
Christie talk on ACA repeal spurs worry N.J. residents could lose coverage
The expanded Medicaid program insures an additional 566,000 low-income people, while 295,000 others signed up through the health exchange on healthcare.gov website.
When taking into account "those facing addiction that need treatment," Maura Collinsgru of New Jersey Citizen Action said the count exceeds 1 million people.
Christie said his focus in his final year in office will be to address New Jersey's heroin and opioid epidemic.
"Governor Christie has vowed to help New Jerseyans get treatment from addiction and has in the past supported the Medicaid expansion," Collinsgru said. "We need him to stand up for the people of New Jersey and stand against this massive attack on our healthcare programs."
The Rev. Charles Boyer of Salvation and Social Justice, a coalition of clergy and civil rights organizations fighting racism, urged the governor to "get off the Trump train," and see the "moral crisis" that will result when pregnancy is once again viewed as a pre-existing condition, pricing women and families out of the insurance market.
On Friday, Politico reported that the draft congressional legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act would eliminate the expanded Medicaid program in 2020. States would get a block grant based on its current enrollment figure and end the open-ended entitlement program, more than 90 percent of which is paid for by the federal government.
At a Feb. 15 press conference, Christie said he could get behind either keeping the expanded Medicaid program or turning Medicaid funding over to the states in the form of capped block grants.
"Whatever change we make to the ACA should be made with those folks in mind. We don't help ourselves by kicking those people off of coverage," Christie said.Brian Lee of the Somerset section of Franklin Township holds an anti-Trump sign at a rally in Trenton Monday. Photos bySusan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Advocates of the landmark health care law warn that once Medicaid is reduced to an annual grant, the federal government does not make adjustments for inflation or a rise in enrollment prompted by a recession. Christie said that was not necessarily the case.
"You could have a per capita block grant which goes up and down based on the number of people who are enrolling, which is often driven by economic activity," Christie told reporters.
Joel Cantor, director for the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, said no one in Washington is talking about these flexible block grants.
"It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for states to maintain the level of service that Medicaid now provides to low-income individuals and families under these proposals," Cantor said.
Susan K. Livio may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.
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