New Jersey needs to move ahead to begin creating its own health insurance exchange.

Health insurance exchanges are the online marketplaces where individuals and employers will be able to shop for health insurance starting Jan 1, 2014. The exchanges, which must be ready to begin enrollment by next October, are an important provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance in a separate exchange, where their employees can become part of a larger pool to hold costs down.

The state has until Dec. 14 - an extension from the original November deadline - to tell the federal government whether it will build its own exchange, let Washington control the state exchange or create a state-federal partnership.

Gov. Chris Christie has put off making that decision, waiting first for a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the Affordable Care Act and then on the results of the November election, since Republican Mitt Romney pledged to overturn the health care law.

But the court upheld Obamacare, the campaign is over, and it's time to get back to the hard work of governing. And there's plenty of work to do figuring out and setting up a state exchange. This is a big job - currently about 16 percent of New Jersey adults lack health insurance - and if state officials want it done right, they should follow that old dictum about doing it themselves.

Actually, Christie has to make some kind of decision before Dec. 6. That's his deadline for signing or vetoing a law passed by the Legislature in October to set up a state health insurance exchange. State Democrats rewrote the law after Christie vetoed an earlier version in May. The new version eliminates salaries for members of the exchange board.

Like other Republican governors, Christie may be reluctant to appear to be cooperating with the federal government to help in the implementation of one of Obamacare's chief requirements.

But New Jersey runs the risk of falling behind other states. Already, it lags New York State and Connecticut in the amount of federal grant money it has received to help set up an exchange.

The best reason for the state to create its own health insurance exchange is that, as conservatives are fond of saying, government functions best on the local level. That's something Christie should be able to get behind.

New Jersey's exchange should reflect the conditions, concerns and priorities of the people here, which are markedly different than those of people in other states.

In fact, providing a superior health insurance exchange is one more way the state can distinguish itself and encourage new residents and new businesses to locate here.

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