Enrollment for 2020 health-insurance plans on New Jersey’s state-based exchange begins Friday, supported this year by a $3.1 million effort to promote and facilitate signing up for coverage.

The state will spend $1.5 million on advertising for the Get Covered New Jersey campaign. It has awarded $1.1 million in "navigator grants" to five organizations to provide enrollment assistance to residents. And it will award $500,000 in smaller grants to at least 10 "assister" organizations.

“We believe the sort of value statement is that health care is a right and not a privilege,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday, at a Department of Banking and Insurance kickoff,  overview and training event. “Who made the decision that K-through-12 public education is a right and health care isn’t?”

Last year, New Jersey was still relying on a federally facilitated exchange. This year, it is using a state-based exchange that’s still on the federal platform. Next year, it will have its own exchange for when people are choosing 2021 health plans.

“We learned some good lessons last year, including the wind in our face is substantial,” Murphy said. “As you know, this administration in Washington cut both the enrollment period in half and they cut the funding to promote the enrollment period.”

The state is gradually taking more control of its health exchange in two steps, said Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride. This year it has more say over promotion and navigators. But it doesn’t control enrollment, which runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

“We’re still bound to the six weeks, though – this year,” Caride said. “Now when we transition to our own state-based exchange in 2021, things will be different. We will be able to expand the open enrollment period, and we will have data and information that will help us to target our marketing to areas that are not well-represented.”

The navigator grants included $450,000 to the Center For Family Services; $165,835 to the Family Resource Network; $146,307 to the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties/Fulfill; $200,000 to The Oranges ACA Navigator Project; and $150,258 to the Urban League of Hudson County.

Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said 8 in 10 people who apply qualify for financial assistance to help afford health plans.

“It costs nothing to shop. They can go to GetCovered.NJ.gov to get all the information they need about what they’re eligible for and then take the step to enroll at healthcare.gov,” Collinsgru said.

“The important thing is that no one should assume that they cannot get it. There’s lots available, and most of our residents are eligible for coverage and we encourage them all to check it out and don’t wait until the last minute,” she said. “And if they are not eligible for financial assistance, there’s information on that website that will show them plans that are cheaper to buy off the marketplace.”

Murphy and Caride both said health care is a right, though the governor didn’t specify his preferred plan for universal coverage.

“I’m open-minded as to how we achieve it. I don’t think there’s one tactical way you get there,” Murphy said. “I’m open-minded to how you get there. But let’s get there.”

“My personal opinion is we’re more than halfway up the ACA mountain, let’s make the most of what we’ve got,” he said. “I think that’s the most cost-effective – now we’re used to it, now we’re nine years into this. It’s a model we understand. Far from perfect, but to me it’s where we should build from.”

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