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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge
Gov. Chris Christie's administration has lost out on big federal dollars again, this time losing the state $7.67 million in Obamacare grants because Christie changed his mind about setting up a health insurance exchange in the state after the grant to do so had been made.
The state received the grant in February 2012 for use in building a state insurance exchange. After Gov. Chris Christie announced a year later that the state would opt for a federal insurance marketplace, rather than a state-run one, state and federal officials began discussions about how the money could be spent.

Yesterday was the deadline for the state to come up with an acceptable plan for using the money. [...]

Federal officials would have approved a range of uses for the grant, including marketing the insurance marketplace to the public, a use supported by a coalition of advocates for expanding healthcare access, as well as by the state’s Democratic members of Congress and the Legislature.

Raymond J. Castro, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said [Department of Banking and Insurance] officials failed to make significant changes in its plans for the grant months after they knew the federal government wouldn’t approve the plans. [...]

“We have reached out to the state numerous times over the last few months in order to avoid a last minute scramble, but unfortunately the state has yet to send us a request to re-scope their grant for any allowable activities,” [HHS spokesman Fabien] Levy wrote in an emailed response to questions.

All of the proposals the state submitted for using the money were not allowed under the regulations guiding the release of the grant money, with the state's final proposal being rejected in December. Christie's administration didn't want to use the money for what it was intended—expanding outreach to the state's uninsured. That, policy analyst Castro estimates, could have brought in 95,000 additional uninsured New Jerseyans.

This could be another instance in which Christie's too-cute politics ends up hurting his state. He was roundly criticized by conservatives for accepting the Medicaid expansion, and maybe to appease some of those far-right critics, ended up changing his mind about setting up a state exchange, burdening the Obama administration with having to add one more state. Now he can point to his administration's refusal to use the grant money to bolster enrollments in Obamacare as his bit to sabotage the law. And to keep 95,000 of his uninsured constituents in the dark about their new opportunity to get covered.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:12 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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