New Jersey’s largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, is on the cusp of being able to act more like a for-profit company after legislative committees endorsed a bill letting it apply to change its corporate structure.

The latest changes to the bill, S3218/A5119, include one adding more public hearings before the state could approve any change of Horizon’s structure, but Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, remained opposed.

“There’s this false sense of urgency and an artificial deadline that this has to happen and it has to happen right now. And there are no actual reasons for that to be the case,” Collinsgru said.

Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, said the bill has been extensively amended to address concerns from skeptics.

“The legislation specifically prohibits for a for-profit stock conversion from happening, either now or in the future,” said Pou, who rattled off a series of other changes made in response to criticism.

Some advocacy groups and Republican lawmakers said the proposed change is advancing too quickly.

The concept has been debated on and off for decades, and the current proposal negotiated privately for more than a year, but the bill itself was still being amended Monday as the hearings were going on. The Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee vote was delayed so lawmakers could review changes that had just arrived in their email inbox 15 minutes earlier.

“And I kind of see red flags going all over the place here because I think it needs to be digested a little bit more and protected. Protect Horizon itself and protect the public,” said Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce, R-Morris, who voted to abstain.

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said he’s concerned about putting a $600 million lump-sum payment from Horizon into the state’s general fund and that maybe it should be earmarked for health care or instead paid to policy holders. In all, Horizon would pay $1.25 billion over roughly 20 years, in exchange for a reduction in taxes that would come with the change.

“2022 isn’t going to be the only year in which New Jersey faces difficult budget choices and is hoping for revenue,” Webber said.

Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, said the budget bill wouldn’t override any language in the Horizon legislation, anyway.

“So as opposed to creating a false narrative of 100% of this money is going to healthcare, I thought it was best to not be that specific,” McKeon said.

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The bill is scheduled for Senate and Assembly approval Thursday, though even some lawmakers who supported it in committee were still seeking answers about things such as Horizon’s charitable mission.

“This bill has more layers than a mafia wedding cake,” said Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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