By Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger
on February 26, 2013 at 12:27 PM, updated February 26, 2013 at 1:41 PM
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie will expand the state's Medicaid program to cover 300,000 uninsured New Jersey residents, The Star-Ledger learned today.
The governor's new budget, which he plans to unveil at joint session of the Legislature this afternoon, also relies on state revenue growth of 4.9 percent and delays some property tax rebates for local taxpayers, according to three sources with knowledge of the budget plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
CHRISTIE'S 2013 BUDGET ADDRESS
When: 3 p.m.
Where: The Assembly chamber at the Statehouse in Trenton
Why: It’s the governor’s job to deliver a state budget proposal every year — and this election year is no different. After Christie’s speech, the Democratic-controlled Legislature has until July 1 to suggest changes and pass the budget.
Where to catch it: Christie’s speech will be broadcast live on NJTV and News12 New Jersey, and will also be streamed on nj.com, where Star-Ledger reporters will be live-blogging throughout the day, delving into the budget details, and getting reactions from lawmakers and others.
The governor's revenue forecast this year is a much smaller jump than the optimistic 8 percent growth of last year, a goal he has not met.
The sources also said Christie would call for the delay of some property tax relief funds from this spring to this summer, a tactic that could give him some much-needed breathing room to close a $473 million budget shortfall by deferring the cost to the next fiscal year.
The governor 's office has not released details of the budget, but state officials were briefed on his plans this morning. He is expected to provide details later today as well as lay out a roadmap for financing a huge rebuilding effort after Hurricane Sandy.
Spokesmen for Christie did not respond to a request for comment.
As for his decision to expand Medicaid, the Republican governor, a critic of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, could reap up to $300 million by expanding the state program in the coming budget year.
For weeks, a coalition of labor, religious, family and consumer groups waged an aggressive letter-writing and media campaign encouraging Christie to expand the Medicaid program. Doing so, they argued, would allow 300,000 uninsured and childless people to apply for Medicaid.
Before passage of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, people without children were not eligible unless they applied for welfare and earned no more than $140 a month. Allowing the expansion would reduce the burden on hospitals to treat uninsured patients, and the state, which partly reimburses those costs.
The revised Medicaid program would shift 100 percent of the costs to the federal government for these new enrollees for the first three years, then gradually taper it to 90 percent. The state could expect $1.7 billion a year to cover the costs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has received word from 39 governors about their plans for Medicaid: 22 — including nine Republicans — who said they would expand it, while 17 have turned it down.
Christie, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, joins Republican governors from Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Florida and New Mexico as well as Gov. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, an Independent, in embracing the larger Medicaid program.
Sen Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, called Christie's move "a wise decision that will provide tens of thousands of New Jerseyans with access to affordable health care, support for our hospitals and health care professionals, and reduce waste over time."
Dena Mottola Jaborska of New Jersey Citizen Action, a watchdog coalition that has pushed for the expansion of the program, said the move was "good for New Jersey."
"The decision to accept federal funds to expand health coverage will not only help balance the state budget; it will save lives," Jaborska said.
"Who will benefit? Hard working people in food service, day care, construction and more who do not earn enough to buy health insurance, victims of Hurricane Sandy who have lost their jobs, college graduates who have been unable to find full-time work, and seniors who’ve retire early and are not yet eligible for Medicare," she added.
Star-Ledger staff writers Matt Friedman, Susan K. Livio, and Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.