Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Cool to ACA Replacement Bill

Guadagno and Ciattarelli both back reforms to public-employee benefits, would extend coverage of medical marijuana

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno
When it comes to federal efforts to reform healthcare, New Jersey’s two main Republican gubernatorial candidates agreed during their first debate that Obamacare might be flawed, but the replacement plan proposed by GOP congressional leaders would be even worse for Garden State residents.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, of Monmouth Beach, called the controversial proposal, which narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, a “disaster” for how it would end coverage for more than 500,000 state residents, significantly limit access for patients with pre-existing conditions, and leave hospitals struggling for funding. Garden State leaders at all levels need to continue to push back on the plan, she said.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, her primary challenger, called it “unacceptable” how the measure could harm hundreds of thousands of working-poor residents now covered by Medicaid. The Hillsborough resident said he would “reserve judgment” until the U.S. Senate weighs in — which leaders in both parties said will likely involve changes — but urged New Jersey’s congressional delegation to do more to protect state residents against this reform and ensure they are fairly treated in Washington, D.C.

A feisty exchange

Their comments on healthcare came during the primary campaign’s first debate, a feisty exchange held earlier this month at Stockton University; the GOP contenders will square off a second time tonight during a forum hosted by NJ Spotlight and NJTV News. Candidates in both major parties have essentially opposed the ongoing effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare; but while Democrats have focused on the possibility of a state-run single-payer system if the GOP plan is implemented, Guadagno and Ciattarelli have suggested it makes more sense to protect and improve the system now in place.

“I believe we need to continue the fight. I know there are still a lot of unanswered questions about where [the GOP proposal] will go,” Guadagno said during the Stockton debate. “I believe [Obamacare] was a bad business plan. It was slowly going broke. But there has to be a way to fix it so the people of New Jersey are not harmed.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released in early May suggested that half of the state’s GOP voters were undecided about who to support in the primary election, scheduled for June 6. Guadagno received 26 percent of the support, with 12 percent for Ciattarelli. Two other candidates who did not raise enough money to participate in the Stockton debate include Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, who got 5 percent, and entrepreneur Joseph Rullo, with 3 percent.

Beyond the ACA

For the leading Republicans, the ACA is not the only healthcare issue on their minds. The candidates prioritized reforms to the public health-benefits system on their websites and both have called for the program that insures some 700,000 public and education workers to eliminate platinum, or “Cadillac,” plans from its list of offerings. Guadagno also wants other changes that would bring this coverage more in line with commercial policies. Ciattarelli wants to require retired workers whose pension and Social Security check add up to more than $500,000 a year to contribute to their healthcare coverage.

Ciattarelli has also called for reforms to cap the amount of sick and vacation time public workers can accumulate; these days can add up and result in massive payouts when some individuals retire. “It will become ‘use it or lose it’ under Gov. Ciattarelli,” he said at Stockton.

While they clashed on their approaches to cutting taxes and addressing school funding, the GOP frontrunners largely agreed during the Stockton debate on how the state should approach marijuana policy. They would like to see the state’s medical marijuana program expanded to cover more conditions — a process that has begun — but opposed the current push by state Democrats to legalize pot in order to generate new revenue. Ciattarelli also called for decriminalizing recreational use to avoid wasting criminal justice resources on low-level drug crimes.

Standard criticism

On Wednesday, representatives from the two campaigns downplayed their candidate’s support for the ACA and used their comments to criticize their opponents — something that has become standard fare in the 2017 Republican race.

“The Lt. Governor has long opposed Obamacare and believes it’s unraveling. She would urge Congress to make sure that any federal plan to repeal and replace it maintains coverage for those who now have healthcare, protects New Jerseyans with pre-existing conditions, provides choice, improves care, and reduces costs,” Guadagno spokesman Ricky Diaz said Wednesday.

Diaz said it was “alarming” that Ciattarelli has suggested in press interviews he is open to considering a single-payer healthcare plan in the future. “The Lt. Governor opposes government-run health care because it will explode costs and limit care for New Jerseyans, especially for seniors who would no longer be able to pick their own doctors,” he said.

Ciattarelli, who said it was “too soon” to consider a single-payer plan, actually pledged to veto a state-run plan in the interview he had with Instead, he supported new provider models in which doctors shared the risk and rewards of a hospital system and private clinics provided more free care for the poor. He has also called for changes to Medicaid to reduce costs and improve care delivery.

“As a Main Street business owner I have seen firsthand how Obamacare sent insurance premiums skyrocketing, limited consumer choice, and forced deductibles so high that people with insurance couldn’t afford to use it. There is no doubt that Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced,” Ciattarelli said Wednesday, calling it “stunning” that Guadagno had suggested it needed to be protected. “That said, the replacement needs to be an improvement, not a new law that trades one set of problems for another.”

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