Christie, at town hall meeting, touts budgetary benefits of Medicaid expansion in New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is touting the budgetary benefits of Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

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The potential Republican presidential contender, who has been a vocal critic of Obama's signature health care program, said Tuesday during a town hall event that Medicaid expansion has helped save New Jersey taxpayers significant money and benefited low-income residents as well as the state's bottom line.

"Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey," he told the audience of about 450 people gathered at the Van Derveer Elementary School Gymnasium in Somerville for what he said was his 130th town hall meeting.

Christie has been touring the state, promoting his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which calls for cutting the state's charity care aid for hospitals to $502 million from $650 million. Most other spending would remain flat.

Christie says that cut is possible because, with more residents now insured, verified charity care cases are down 43 percent. That means fewer uninsured residents need to visit hospital emergency rooms for primary care.

Christie declined to have the state run an insurance exchange or use state money to promote the program, but he agreed to include more low-income residents in NJ FamilyCare, the state's Medicaid program. Most of that cost is picked up for now by the federal government.

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An additional 250,000 people have signed up for coverage through the federally run health insurance exchange.

When he presented the governor's budget plans to reporters last month, State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff described the Medicaid money as "a blessing for providing appropriate care to our most vulnerable populations."

Christie also addressed his administration's much-criticized settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. for the first time Tuesday. He said it was a very good deal for the state.