A Senate committee Monday endorsed a dozen bills that turn provisions of the Affordable Care Act into New Jersey law, so things such as no-cost preventative care and prohibiting exclusions for pre-existing conditions survive in the state even if the federal law is struck down or abandoned.

Half of the bills were advanced unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee, though some drew Republican opposition.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, voted against half the bills, saying they can drive up costs and limit consumer choice by imposing mandatory coverage, some of which he voted to support.

“I get more complaints from people who don’t have coverage provided by employers that there are almost no choices that they can make,” Cardinale said. “The only choice they can make is to pay more or to pay even more. And it’s become unaffordable.”

Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said the Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance coverage but that the gains are at risk. Fewer New Jerseyans signed up for coverage through the ACA in late 2018 than had the year before.

“Have we 100 percent solved the affordability crisis? No. And anyone involved in this would tell you that. Have we made tremendous progress? Yes,” Collinsgru said. “That progress has begun to be whittled away because of changes at the federal level, and this will enable us to cushion and protect our consumers here in the state of New Jersey.”

One of the bills that advanced by a 3-2 vote was the one establishing a state-operated insurance marketplace, rather than a federal one.

Renee Steinhagen, executive director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, said a state-run exchange is the way to go but should operate independently of state regulators.

“The New Jersey exchange must be established in the public interest for the benefit of the people and the businesses who obtain health insurance coverage for themselves, their families and their employers,” Steinhagen said.

Tony Bawidamann, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said a state-run exchange will increases costs in the small market by 3.5 percent.

“We support an exchange and the success of it, but we’re concerned about the costs that go along with that,” Bawidamann said.

One bill that advanced by a 3-1 vote, with one vote to abstain, requires health insurance policies to cover contraceptive coverage for women – but also goes a step further and ends the current exemption in state law for religious employers whose beliefs and practices conflict with its use.

“We’re somewhat surprised relative to the sponsors having dropped out the religious employers exemption that was allowed,” said John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American Families. “And just removing it across the board we think is challengeable.”

Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the state isn’t looking for litigation, along the lines of the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling involving the Hobby Lobby company.

New Jersey is one of 17 states currently appealing the decision of a federal judge in Texas who ruled the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional in December.

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