Health advocates are pushing for Gov. Chris Christie to spend $7.6 million in federal money to improve awareness about the Affordable Care Act, as enrollment for New Jersey residents continues at a lackluster pace.
The federal government gave the money to New Jersey when Christie was deliberating whether the state or the federal government should be in charge of the Garden State's enrollment process. After using some of the money to study the issue, Christie opted for a federally-run health insurance marketplace, saying that there were too many restrictions on states who wanted to operate their own.
Christie has until Feb. 20 to decided how to use the leftover $7.6 million. Health advocates want the money to be spent on a marketing campaign because they say too few New Jerseyans know about their options under the Affordable Care Act.
More than a half a million uninsured New Jersey residents qualify for federal subsidies if they apply before March 31st. So far, only 13 percent have enrolled.
During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Congressman Rush Holt said trying to convince the Christie administration to use the money has been difficult.
"I think we’d have to say that the state has been nothing but obstinate in not claiming this money in time to get full benefit before the March 31st deadline," he said.
The governor's office forwarded questions about the money to New Jersey's Department of Banking and Insurance. A spokesman there said agency officials are talking to federal Health and Human Services officials about how best to use the money.
If Christie decides not to use the $7.6 million, it would not be the first time he left federal funds on the table. In 2010, he pulled the plug on the ARC Tunnel project, including $3 billion in federal funds, citing the potential for cost overruns that the state would have to absorb.