NJ Gov. Christie Wants To Seize ‘Surplus’ Funds From Private, Non-Profit Health Insurer

By Gage Cohen | June 28, 2017 | 1:10 PM EDT

New Jersey's Republican governor,

Chris Christie.  (SGBerman) 

(CNSNews.com) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has given his support to a bill that would allow the state government to take money from the reserve fund of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, a private, not-for-profit health insurance provider that is the largest in the state.

According to a report from NJ.com, the bill supported by Gov. Christie would permit New Jersey’s Department of Banking and Insurance to “examine the size of Horizon’s surplus” and take “any amount deemed excessive” from the company, depositing it into the state’s own health and wellness fund.

The governor’s plan is to use the insurance company’s reserve funds to pay for the state’s drug treatment programs in his ongoing effort to deal with the state’s opioid crisis.

In addition, on June 21, Christie announced a record $15.5 million in fines against Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield for “non-compliance of several provisions of managed care contracts,” according to the Asbury Park Press.

"Horizon just brazenly failed their members and the citizens of New Jersey," said Christie. "What their multi-million dollar lobbyists and secretive management team worked to make sure we wouldn't notice is that Horizon has been cited repeatedly."

Christie said that the fines against Horizon had nothing to do with their dispute regarding the provider’s reserve funds. He said that the insurance provider had been cited for failing to properly process “hundreds of thousands of Medicaid claims, resulting in backlogs and significantly impacting residents since 2015,” reported the Associated Press.

Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Horizon, said, "It makes us question the motivation behind levying a large, and unreasonable, penalty without permitting the opportunity for the customary appeal and review. Horizon New Jersey will be filing a formal challenge to this unfair and unjustified action.''

Several lawmakers have come out against the governor’s plan to seize funds from the not-for-profit insurance provider.

On June 23, New Jersey’s State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D) said he would “in no way shape or form” support Christie’s plan to draw from Horizon’s reserves.

Christie’s own lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who is also the Republican candidate for this year’s gubernatorial race in New Jersey, has come out against the proposed bill.

“You can negotiate and that’s one thing, and that’s something that’s perfectly legitimate,” Guadagno argued. “But to demand it and take it is another thing. I don’t think that’s something government should do.”

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group, said it is investigating Christie’s actions.

This is “an egregious cash grab that media outlets call a ‘shake down’ and ‘extortion,’” said the group. “Judicial Watch has launched an investigation into the Republican governor’s outrageous targeting of a nonprofit healthcare provider, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, that functions as a tax-paying health services corporation with nearly 4 million policyholders.”

After the governor announced his support of the plan, “Hands Off Health Care New Jersey,” a political campaign dedicated to defeating the seizure of Horizon reserve funds, was launched.

“Hands Off Healthcare New Jersey is a public affairs campaign sponsored by a diverse coalition of organizations and leaders working to protect the essential health reserve funds at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state's largest health insurer,” says the campaign’s website. “This plan would be a disaster for the millions of state residents who are Horizon customers, leading to premium increases of approximately $2,000 for an average family.”

Hands Off Healthcare has garnered the support of a diverse range of politicians, activists, and organizations.

During a conference call on Monday, Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes and a former presidential candidate, said Christie’s plan would destroy Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“It’s a pure political vendetta against a single nonprofit tax-paying entity,” said Forbes. “It would destroy this company.”

Moreover, Forbes called the plan “political extortion” and said it would send “a terrible message to not only the people of New Jersey, but any business that wants to come to New Jersey.”

Anthony Russo, the president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) shared Forbes’ view on the matter.

“This is government overreach,” said Tony. “We’re very concerned with the proposal, we hope it is stopped.”