TRENTON - Gov. Christie must decide whether he wants the state or the federal government to manage a website that will compare the price of health-benefit plans in New Jersey, an element of President Obama's health-care overhaul.

A bill that establishes basic parameters for the online resource, known as a health-care exchange, if run by the state received final approval Thursday from the Assembly in a 44-33 vote with two abstentions. The measure was passed by the Senate earlier this month.

Christie, who vetoed similar legislation in May, said he would decide after the Nov. 6 election whether to create a state-run site. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would repeal Obama's changes to health care.

Christie has until Nov. 16 to act on the bill, which would appoint a governing board to create and oversee the exchange. The federal government will set up exchanges in any states that fail to meet the deadline.

Supporters of the measure say the state exchange will help more than 400,000 uninsured individuals find the best rates for health care. Small businesses could use the exchange to find the best deals for their employees.

Assemblyman David Rible (R., Monmouth) said the measure was premature, since the regulation for how the exchange would operate is not complete.

"We have no federal guidelines and we may not for another year," he said.

But Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D., Burlington), a physician who sponsored the legislation, said exchanges operating in Massachusetts - created when Romney was the state's governor - have encouraged competition among insurers and made health care more affordable.

Massachusetts lawmakers "have actually seen a decrease in insurance rates while [they have] expanded access to those who need it," Conaway said.

If Christie signs the bill, New Jersey must have a working health-care exchange by January 2014.

The bill would establish an unpaid independent board of directors within the Department of Banking and Insurance to establish and oversee the exchange.

The exchange would offer a variety of services related to purchasing health care. It would offer individuals with incomes between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level federal subsidies to help purchase health insurance.

Contact Joelle Farrell
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