New Jersey business owners will have an opportunity to learn about health care reform efforts on state and national levels at an upcoming breakfast roundtable.

Telemedicine, out-of-network “surprise” billing, and the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be among the discussion topics led by Senator Joseph Vitale. Vitale is the chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. Sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce (NJCC), the event takes place Friday, April 7, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the National Conference Center, East Windsor. Members can register at For more information, call 609-989-7888.

Michael Egenton, the chamber’s vice president of government relations, invited Vitale to speak because of his active commitment to solving current health care issues. “The timing is right,” Egenton says.

The ACA has both positive and negative aspects says Egenton. It provides health care access to everyone, but it doesn’t address the high cost of care, particularly for small businesses. The chamber’s position on ACA is that it needs modifications, but it should not be scrapped.

Before the Republican version — the American Health Care Act — was pulled from the floor in March, Vitale, a Democrat, publicly urged Republicans to vote no, saying it would create barriers to accessing health care and leave thousands of people without quality coverage.

Telemedicine is a health care option of interest to Egenton and the chamber. Vitale has co-sponsored a bill to authorize health care practitioners to provide services remotely through video and other technology.

“It’s a new way of providing health care services, especially for people who may have challenges going to see a doctor or for anyone with a minor health concern,” says Egenton, adding it could be helpful for physicians with hectic schedules and over-extended office hours.

“The chamber likes the concept of having telemedicine available. We just want to make sure that at the end of the day, this doesn’t add to the cost of insurance,” he says.

Another topic to be discussed is a Senate bill Vitale has sponsored to protect consumers from out-of-network “surprise” charges. Says Egenton: “We have not taken an official stance on the bill because there are a lot of moving parts, but we like that this bill because it addresses consumer protection, transparency, containing costs, and being accountable. If it does anything to cap rising costs associated with health care delivery, that’s a good thing.”

Egenton’s interest in policy making and small business advocacy can be traced back to his childhood growing up in Plainfield where his father owned and operated a Volkswagen repair shop, Egenton’s Garage. “He worked long hours as a mechanic and he was always telling me he loved his work,” Egenton says. But his father also wanted his three sons to have more career options.

Egenton decided to study political science and enrolled in Seton Hall. He went on to earn a master’s in public administration from Kean University.

In his early career days he worked in Trenton for the State Commission on County and Municipal Government, and moved on to New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark where he reviewed environmental regulations and their potential impacts on economic growth. In 1993 he learned of an opening at the State Chamber of Commerce, an entry level lobbyist position focusing on business issues and public policy. He completed a couple rounds of interviews.

During his final interview, he was asked by then president Bill Faherty if he was a Democrat or Republican. His answer: “Sir, I’m neither. Like Johnny Cash says, I walk the line.”

In response, Faherty replied, “That’s who we’re looking for. We need someone who can work with both sides of the isle and get along with both sides.”

He was offered and accepted the position. “I knew it was an opportunity for me to speak up, particularly on behalf of the small business person who may not have a voice in Trenton,” he said.

Since then Egenton has worked with several governors, Republican and Democratic, and has always focused on keeping a positive working relationship between the state chamber and the state legislature.

“As a lobbyist, I represent the business community. The mom and pop and all the way up to the Fortune 500. We listen to our members’ concerns. But we also inform and educate our policy makers on why a certain thing is good or bad for business,” he says.

In addition to health care, the chamber plays an active role in promoting the Transportation Trust Fund. “We’ve always had a good transportation network, and accessibility is always seen as a plus by business,” he says. But, he points out, the state is dealing with an aging infrastructure, and as it ages, parts need to be repaired or replaced. One of the projects the chamber has supported is raising the Bayonne Bridge to allow modern, large cargo ships to pass through and to avoid having them detour to Halifax, Canada, or to Baltimore.

Egenton is in favor of Gov. Christie’s tax reform package that includes the eventual phase out of the estate tax. “You’re probably heard people say that you can’t afford to die in New Jersey because you’ll get taxed on your estate,” he says, adding that people move to other states for that reason. “We would rather see people stay in New Jersey and spend their income here and support the budget, including programs that serve the poor. The only way we could do that was to address the estate tax. If you lose people on the high end, you have some fiscal challenges ahead of you.”

Egenton’s favorite chamber event is the annual Walk to Washington, a tradition that began 80 years ago. The chamber charters a train from Amtrak every February and takes about 1,000 people to the nation’s capital for two days. “We call it the ‘Walk to Washington’ because everyone on the train is up walking around, networking, and schmoozing with people,” he says.

Among others, this year’s participants included Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Cardinal Joseph Tobin. “It’s a real Who’s Who, a lot of politicians, business people, local government people and the press. It’s our premier event where we bring people to Washington to meet with policy makers.”

Egenton attributes the success of his 24- year career to following his 10 commandments of lobbying, which he says can be adapted to any business position:

Never lie or mislead a legislator. Your credibility must always remain at a high standard.

Your word is your bond. Never promise anything you can’t deliver.

Don’t waste time on opponents who are publicly committed to their position. It is more productive to store up allies and lobby those who are uncommitted.

Never forget to thank those who have helped you. Most issues are won with the cooperation and involvement of several stakeholders.

When you lose, be gracious and live to fight another day.

Do not grab credit. Success has many fathers.

Do not assume the legislator knows about an issue. You must take the opportunity to inform and educate.

Always assess your opposition — debate them using facts, information, and empirical data.

Never suggest that a legislator’s vote could have positive or negative consequence for your future relationship.

Select your priority issues carefully. Assess what is key and critical to your members and/or clients.

“At the end of the day, everyone needs and wants a good job, everyone wants an opportunity to do well, to work, and” — for Egenton — “to make New Jersey home.”

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