Gov. Phil Murphy has directed his administration to develop plans by year’s end on implementing benchmarks for health care cost growth and affordability standards, with the goal of addressing rising health care costs.

“This is a movement to improving not just value for consumers but outcomes for residents,” Murphy said. “Out of every crisis, let’s never forget this, comes opportunity. And the COVID pandemic has created the opportunity for us to fully transform our health-care system for the better, to make it more affordable and transparent, more equitable, more accessible. And that is good for everyone.”

“So these are big words. They sound like sort of abstract, in the distance concepts, but let me assure everybody. We are going to be focused laser-like on better outcomes for our consumers and residents,” he said.

Murphy signed an executive order Thursday creating a working group that includes his office’s Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency, along with five state departments: Banking and Insurance, Human Services, Health, Community Affairs and Treasury.

It will organize soon and within a month of that time recommend of health care industry stakeholders, consumer advocates, and policy leaders to be on an advisory board. Its report is due nine months after its creation, and it was directed to come up with a plan that can be in place by Jan. 1, 2022.

“We’re on a journey,” Murphy said. “We’ll probably never see the end zone honestly – but, well, we’ll never be in the end zone, but we stay on this journey to get stronger, more accessible, more affordable, more transparent in all aspects of health care.”

“We know that transparency in the underlying cost of health care is critical to addressing cost and accessibility,” said Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride. “By understanding the specific cost drivers within the health-care system, we can set the benchmarks and policies aimed at containing costs that are ultimately paid by our residents.”

Shabnam Salih, director of the state Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency Director, said now is “a truly transformative moment in health care in our state.”

Hackensack Meridian Health chief executive officer Robert Garrett said the working group will get New Jersey on a path to more affordable health care.

“All of us here today really share the same goal – to ensure that health care in New Jersey is of the highest quality, convenient, accessible and affordable,” Garrett said.

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The state also extended the open enrollment period for people without health insurance to buy coverage through the Get Covered New Jersey marketplace through May 15, citing the coronavirus pandemic. The three-month enrollment period was to end Sunday.

The move is similar to the special enrollment period that President Joe Biden ordered for the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace, which will be reopened from Feb. 15 through May 15. New Jersey used to use the federal platform until beginning its own program in 2020.

“They won’t have to prove anything,” Caride said. “We’re calling it the COVID-19 special enrollment period so that all of our uninsured individuals can go on and get coverage. We’re not asking for proof that you had COVID.”

The enrollment period had already been doubled in length under state management, running from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31 instead of through Dec. 15. As of Jan. 2, 251,386 had bought policies, around 80% of them with help from state subsidies. It included 50,000 people new to the ACA marketplace.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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