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Christie: ‘Can’t believe Democrats won’t support’ raiding Horizon surplus

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Gov. Chris Christie said legislation will be introduced soon that would direct funding from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield’s reserves to a state fund to pay for drug-addiction treatment for the poor, patterned after a bill proposed a dozen years ago by the Democratic majority leader in the Senate.

Christie said in his Feb. 28 budget speech that he wanted Horizon to voluntarily pay into the fund; the company has refused, saying its reserve doesn’t represent excess profits, as Christie calls it.

“They had an opportunity to negotiate with me. They’ve passed it up. They’ve decided to rely on their well-paid lobbyists who have guaranteed them that they’re so politically connected with the Democrats that they won’t get a bill passed. We’ll see. We’ll see,” Christie said on ‘Ask the Governor.’

Christie – as he did at a bill-signing Monday morning at a Trenton union call – hammered Horizon for its spending on executives and lobbyists. He wants the company to release details about salaries, deferred compensation, bonuses it pays its top executives and lobbyists.

“I find it hard to believe that Democratic legislators are going to say no to the idea that a company like Horizon, which is a nonprofit, set up for the benefit of the people of New Jersey, that they won’t take their excess profits, just a piece of their excess profits, and use them to help poor people who are drug-addicted,” Christie said. “I can’t believe the Democrats won’t support that.”

Horizon spokesman Kevin McArdle said Christie’s proposal “would result in a massive premium tax” and said the governor should tackle out-of-network, surprise medical bills.

“Horizon remains willing to work with the Governor but will oppose any effort that will mean higher premiums and less security for our 3.8 million policyholders,” McArdle said. “Our policyholders have only 75 days’ worth of reserves in a very volatile marketplace due to Washington.”

Christie pushes Horizon to voluntarily tax itself to help NJ’s poor

Horizon’s profits were around $86 million last year.

Christie hasn’t publicly specified an amount he is seeking from Horizon, though $300 million has been the figure commonly cited in the ensuing debate.

Horizon said a $300 million annual raid of its reserves would hike the individual premium between $500 and $800 and cost a family of four an extra $1,500 to $2,500 a year.

“These guys need to step up. And if they’re not going to step up, then maybe they need to be forced to be stepped up,” Christie said. “And by the way, the bill we’re going to put forward is identical to the bill that was introduced by Sen. Loretta Weinberg a number of years ago, during the McGreevey/Codey years. So I’m sure I’m going to have her support.”

In the 2004-05 session, Weinberg was joined by Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, then-Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and then-Assemblyman Neil Cohen in sponsoring S2835/A2917, which would have allowed the Department of Banking & Insurance to allocate part of Horizon’s surplus for charity care, the aid the state provides hospitals to partially compensate them for care for the uninsured.

That bill advanced in the Assembly Budget Committee in June 2005 but went no further.

It was reintroduced in 2006 but didn’t receive a hearing.

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