By SHIRLEY WITHERSPOON
It appears that New Jersey’s outgoing, embattled governor, Chris Christie, wants to penalize the state’s biggest health insurance company, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, for their steadfast denial of paying into a public health fund. The state’s legislative arms are in combat over a bill that would allow New Jersey’s next governor the authority to control Horizon’s surplus.
The state senate voted to pass it late last week.
The state assembly is refusing to enact it.
And all of the aforementioned has backfired into causing the state to melt into a shutdown. State parks, motor vehicle offices, and many other state facilities are closed until further notice. There’s a New Jersey government shutdown because the state did not pass a balanced budget by July 1, as required by the state’s constitution. And the Horizon bill is at the epicenter of this government pandemic.
The senate approved the bill by a 21 to 15 margin. The legislation doesn’t afford Christie exactly what he wanted, but it’s in the ballpark. Christie has been seeking to compel Horizon to divert over $300 million of its reserve fund for drug treatment programs. Instead of this immediate dictatorial power bestowed upon New Jersey’s head executive, the next governor would obtain this unusual power.
A number of senate Republicans voted “no” to the bill, while their Democrat counterparts voted it in. State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, dropped a monkey wrench in the plans by preventing the bill to move forward in his branch of the legislature. He’s opposed to the proposed law, in part, because it unjustly, and likely unlawfully, singles out one insurance company to make massive, unprecedented payments to the government. All to support Christie’s new, and presumably only, pet project–using taxpayer monies to benefit drug addicts.
New Jersey’s Young Republican Chairman Giancarlo Ghione agrees that the Horizon bill should be short-circuited. “The last time Trenton took excess funds from a fund that wasn’t theirs was when we took from the pension system. It led us to the current pension crisis and is a major cause of our deficit. Now a plan to direct some of the state’s lottery revenue to fund those pensions is being held hostage because we yet again want to take from another group of people.”
Ghione, a rising star in New Jersey’s Republican party who also serves as the executive director of the Bergen County Republican Organization, continued, “I never thought I would say this, but I applaud Speaker Prieto for standing firm and fighting against others’ interests.”
Seizing this $300 million from Horizon, a tax-paying not-for-profit entity, via this bill, is the government’s takeover of the company’s reserve monies. Legal experts have questioned the state’s authority to carry out this extraordinary measure. Opponents of the bill have also pointed out that such an action will significantly increase costs to Horizon’s nearly 4 million policyholders. Thus, hardworking taxpayers, who need lower-cost health premiums, would suffer to benefit the self-destructive junkies who Christie wants to divert the funds to; the governor’s plan, of course, would do nothing to help those who suffer from diseases that people do not bring upon themselves.
Christie offered up a deal to sign the Democrats budget without striking their spending priorities in exchange for the passage of the Horizon bill and another deal where state lottery funds would be used to plug holes in the state pension fund. Republicans, statewide, have refuted this arrangement.
GOP state senator Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County blasted the proposed compact on multiple fronts. She mocked its usage to further “pet projects.” And she echoed the concerns of many: that the reserve funds, instead, could be used to return monies to the policyholders who paid them.
Ghione, who is about to enter his third year of law school, said, “The government’s money is not theirs, it is ours, and the money we pay for health premiums is also ours.”
He added that he was proud of State Senator Gerald Cardinale, a Republican from Bergen County, when the legislator “said we should not steal to pay for an ad to not do drugs.”
While Cardinale, Peck, Ghione and masses of other Republican leaders throughout New Jersey have fervently resisted the Horizon scheme for laudable rationales, Prieto’s opposition is rather unbalanced. The Democrat from Hudson County slapped national politics into the mix, with dubious commentary that the Horizon bill needed to be stopped also because of alleged issues with President Trump’s healthcare plan. Referring to it as “Trumpcare”, Prieto has made the reckless and erroneous claim that the president’s proposal “threatens millions of Americans.” Prieto’s thoughts, in this regard, muddies his challenge to the bill.
Ghione, speaking in a general manner – and perhaps in a manner with the wisdom of a leader twice his age – summed up the Horizon/shutdown debacle in saying, “These legislators should do their jobs, or retire. New Jersey cannot afford the poor policy initiatives that this legislature is continuing.”
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