Gov. Christie backs Obama healthcare law Medicaid expansion

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday became the eighth Republican governor to endorse the Medicaid expansion in President Obama's healthcare law.

Christie's decision is another big political win for Obama and his signature legislative achievement. Although Christie isn't the most conservative governor to accept the Medicaid expansion, he's the most serious contender for the 2016 presidential nomination to sign on.

Conservatives are already unhappy with Christie for working so closely with the White House during Hurricane Sandy — he was notably not invited to this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Embracing a key part of "ObamaCare" certainly won't help Christie win over the GOP base.

But Christie is the governor of a solidly blue state and is clearly casting himself as a centrist who is willing to compromise, even if it upsets the conservative wing of his party.

Christie tried to ameliorate conservative anger during his speech to the state legislature, emphasizing his opposition to the healthcare law and saying he would drop out of the expansion if the Obama administration doesn't follow through on its funding commitments.

"Let me be clear, I am no fan of the Affordable Care Act," he said. "I think it is wrong for New Jersey and 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. I will make all my judgments as governor based on what is best for New Jerseyans."

Christie also argued that as long as New Jersey residents are paying the federal taxes that will finance the Medicaid expansion, they should reap its benefits.

"Let me be clear, refusing these federal dollars does not mean that they won’t be spent. It just means that they will be used to expand healthcare access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else," he said.

The federal government will initially cover the entire cost of the expansion. The federal share begins to drop after the first three years, eventually bottoming out at 90 percent in 2020 — still a healthy federal contribution, to be sure.

The opportunity to significantly expand healthcare coverage with minimal costs to the state has proved attractive to many governors, including several GOP stalwarts.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have also embraced the Medicaid expansion. Scott drew particular scorn from conservatives, given that he led the historic lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act — and the Medicaid expansion, specifically — as unconstitutional.

The Medicaid expansion will cover about 100,000 people in New Jersey, Christie said.

This story was updated at 4:33 p.m.