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Christie joins GOP governors in accepting Obama's Medicaid expansion

Christie joins GOP governors in accepting Obama's Medicaid expansion
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 7:07pm

(CNN) -- The expansion of Medicaid included in President Barack Obama's sweeping health care law was accepted by an eighth Republican governor Tuesday, despite the GOP's fierce opposition to the law as a whole.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, explaining he was aiming to put "people first," announced his support for the expansion of Medicaid as he outlined his budget in front of the New Jersey state legislature.

He becomes the eighth GOP governor to sign on to the plan, which has also been rejected by some high-profile state chief executives still at odds with the politically charged law known as Obamacare. Many Republicans view parts of the bill, including its individual requirement to obtain health insurance, as government overreach.

Christie himself remains opposed to the law, he said Tuesday, but explained to skeptics that refusing the federal dollars would put other states ahead of his own.

"I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act," Christie said. "I think it's wrong for New Jersey and wrong for America. I fought against it, and believe in the long run it will not achieve what it promises. However, it is now the law of the land."

"Let me be clear: Refusing these federal dollars wouldn't mean they would not be spent," he continued. "It just means they would be spent to expand health care access in New York, or Connecticut, or Ohio, or somewhere else."

In total, Christie said accepting the Medicaid expansion would save taxpayers in his state $227 million.

The total bill for the Medicaid expansion will be picked up by the federal government for the first three years. After that, federal funding will phase down to 90%, with the remainder covered by states. The program covers all adults with annual incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2012 was $30,675 for a family of four.

Christie joins Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan, John Kasich of Ohio, Jan Brewer of Arizona, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota in endorsing the Medicaid expansion. So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have indicated they will accept the federal funds.

Other Republican governors, including some who are considered potential 2016 presidential candidates, have rejected all or parts of the measure, including Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Bob McDonnell in Virginia, and Rick Perry in Texas. At least 10 states have so far said no.

The Supreme Court last summer upheld the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion, though it allowed states to choose whether to participate in the expansion program. It could reduce the number of uninsured adults by more than 11 million by 2019, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation estimate.

States are also permitted under the ruling to opt out of health insurance exchanges. Christie, along with many of the Republican governors who have accepted the Medicaid expansion, has rejected the exchanges, though he hasn't ruled out setting them up in the future.

Christie's acceptance of the Medicaid expansion comes after an extended falling-out with the most conservative members of his party, who were angered after Christie heaped praise on Obama in the aftermath Superstorm Sandy. The storm swept through New Jersey and other Northeastern states days before last November's election.

Later, Christie publically blasted Republican lawmakers for stalling passage of emergency funds for Sandy victims.

On Monday, a source close to the Conservative Political Action Conference said Christie wasn't invited to speak at the annual confab this year, further fueling the impression he's suffering backlash from the right wing of the GOP.

While New Jersey voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic in presidential elections, Christie has enjoyed a high approval rating among his constituents in recent polls. He's up for re-election in November.

CNN's Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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