Christie Signs Order Aimed at Health Insurer

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -
Christie health insurance, New jersey, opioids, opiates, addiction
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, shown here speaking at a meeting of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in Washington earlier this month. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order Friday requiring state agencies to publish opinions and decisions online, a move apparently aimed at the state’s biggest health insurer.

The signing of the order followed the announcement this week that the insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, was fined $15.5 million for Medicaid contract violations.

Christie is seeking to use $300 million of Horizon’s $3 billion surplus to combat opioid addiction; Horizon opposes the plan.

The Republican’s months-long effort to tap into Horizon’s reserves is being met with resistance from Democratic lawmakers and has become a stumbling block in budget talks ahead of next Friday’s deadline.

Christie’s proposal was part of his budget address to the Legislature in late February and he has lobbied publicly for the idea, which the nonprofit insurer adamantly opposes. The plan has also drawn criticism from some right-leaning groups, including the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto seemed to close the door on the idea Thursday, saying that his caucus wouldn’t support the “bad bill” and won’t consider any other proposals ahead of the budget deadline.

He added that he is willing to consider legislation affecting other nonprofits, but not just Horizon. “Negotiations are give and take and there are certain things that are just not part of it,” Prieto said.

Wednesday, Christie spotlighted the citations against Horizon over its Medicaid contract compliance with the state, which the governor said predates his effort to use their surplus.

Christie didn’t share the citations, and an attempt to obtain the documents through an Open Public Records Act request resulted in a response that said contractual obligations prevented the release of the documents but that the administration was reaching out to Horizon to try to release them.

Friday’s executive order is retroactive.

“Every agency shall post on its Internet website interim agency orders, decisions, and opinions that pre-date this Executive Order, including, but not limited to, notices of contract violations or sanctions, enforcement actions, and fines,” the order reads.

Horizon spokesman Kevin McArdle didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment late Friday. Earlier Friday, before the signing of the executive order, he said the insurer was not agreeing to release the violation, but he declined to specify why.

Christie said in a statement Friday the order will “prevent repeat offenders like Horizon from hiding behind their vaults of money.”

Horizon said it was “blindsided” by the governor’s criticism and suggested that his noting the citations publicly amounted to retaliation for opposing his plan.

“I’ve never seen a governor go out there and announce fines. It’s out of the ordinary,” Prieto said, pointing to the news conference when he was asked why he opposed the proposal.

Christie’s proposal is part of his efforts in his final year in office to address the state’s opioid epidemic, including leading a commission for President Donald Trump on the issue, but they have also become closely tied to the state budget negotiations. The Horizon change and another Christie plan to dedicate lottery revenue to the state’s woefully underfunded public workers’ pensions has become tied together with the budget and Democrats’ changes to school funding.

Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Sweeney and fellow Democratic state Sen. Joe Vitale are working on legislation that would deliver on some of Christie’s aims but wouldn’t result in ratepayer increases, which has been the biggest stumbling block for Horizon.

“The one thing we all agree on is protecting the ratepayers,” Sweeney said. “We are not gonna do anything that’s gonna risk ratepayers having increased fees.”

The governor’s push comes as his proposed roughly $35.5 billion budget is being considered by lawmakers, who must enact a balanced spending plan by July 1.

Vetoing the bill could risk a government shutdown, something Christie said he was confident would not occur.

Prieto and other lawmakers said Thursday the governor has agreed to an education spending overhaul put forward by Prieto and Sweeney, but with some “tweaks,” according to the Speaker. He declined to specify.