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The Great Divide: Candidates for Governor Far Apart on Healthcare Issues

Christie has emphasized his support for the FQHCs, as well as increasing funding during his term for the state’s hospitals, which he said has increased healthcare access for the state’s residents. “Healthcare is more available in New Jersey under this administration,” Christie said during one of the gubernatorial debates.

Perhaps the area of disagreement that will have the longest-lasting effects on state healthcare policy are the candidates’ views on the ACA. Christie opposed the federal law and vetoed two bills that would have established a state-based health marketplace.

He opted instead for a federally operated marketplace, a website that lets residents price and purchase health insurance online, and learn whether they are eligible for federal tax credits to subsidize their policy.

“I don’t agree with the law, but we’ve complied with it, and that’s the job you have as governor. You don’t agree with every law you have to enforce, but I’ve enforced this one and I’m proud of our record on healthcare,” Christie said in the October 8 debate. “I think we’ve done a great job.”

Buono has been highly critical of the decision to let the federal government run the marketplace, noting that it deprived the state of tens of millions of dollars to advertise the exchange. The election will likely determine whether the state will operate its own marketplace over the next four years.

“This governor’s decision was based on appealing to that Tea Party element that has the grip of his party, and they have shut down government, and really put the American democracy in a vice for one reason, because they don’t have the votes to change the Affordable Care Act,” Buono said in the first debate.

But Christie hasn’t been as staunch in his opposition to the ACA as many of his fellow Republican governors. He said state officials would cooperate with the federal government on the marketplace. More importantly, he agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility. This provided insurance to residents with an annual income below 138 percent of the poverty line, which amounts to $15,856 for a single person instead of the current level of current level of $2,520.

In addition to adding more than 100,000 residents to the Medicaid rolls, Christie's decision deprived Buono of a potential line of attack in the campaign. However, she has claimed that she helped pressure him into the decision.

The introduction of prescription marijuana points to another point of disagreement between the two, in which philosophical differences about the potential dangers of the substance have led to differing proposals for treating both its medical and nonmedical uses.

Christie took office after the law establishing medical marijuana in the state was enacted, putting him in position to implement a measure that he had opposed. The state regulations his administration later issued to put the law into effect have been described as the most stringent of any state that has allowed prescription marijuana. They’ve also been criticized as having contributed to the delays in opening the alternative treatment centers that grow and dispense the substance.

The first alternative treatment center to open had supply problems and has largely remained shuttered, but two additional centers have progressed toward opening this fall.

The governor has been adamant that he will not allow the state to develop the permissive approach to marijuana that has characterized some states, while also upholding the law. He’s even expanded access to the prescription marijuana, agreeing to a bill that allows children to access edible forms of it while removing a restriction on the number of strains each alternative treatment center can grow.

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