The Star-Ledger

Coalition Calls For Close Watch On Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, November 20, 2008

by Susan K. Livio / The Star-Ledger

State regulators must press Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to show senior citizens and working poor families will benefit if it becomes a for-profit company, a new advocacy group closely monitoring the deal said today.

Set up as New Jersey's non-profit insurer of last resort, Horizon wants to convert to a for-profit business.

The Horizon Watch Coalition represents nearly two dozen labor, consumer, small business and social justice groups. It urged the state to hire independent analysts to determine the human impact of the conversion.

Eve Weissman of Citizen Action, one of the coalition's member groups, said a profit-driven Horizon may opt to drop out of Medicaid, stranding 400,000 people now covered by the insurance program for the poor.

"It is government's obligation to ensure that the public interest is adequately represented, promoted and served, especially for low- and moderate-income individuals and families who are likely to have difficulty finding quality affordable health insurance," Weissman said at a Statehouse press conference.

Horizon spokesman Tom Rubino, who attended the press conference, later denied Horizon had proposed dropping out of Medicaid should it become a publicly-held company.

Rubino said even if it remained a non-profit entity, Horizon could withdraw from Medicaid if it lost too much money on the program.

If the state were to permit Horizon to shed its non-profit and largely tax-free status, Horizon would have to repay the state more than $1.5 billion for years of tax breaks. The money would be turned over to a foundation and spent on initiatives that would make health care more accessible, under a law that passed in 2001.

But the proposal first must meet with the approval of the Department of Banking and Insurance and the Attorney General. Last month, they told Horizon it needed to disclose much more information before they could begin to make a decision.

The state should push for even more disclosure and impose broader requirements, George Hampton from the NJ Appleseed Public Interest Law Center said at today's news conference.

Horizon is the largest insurance carrier in New Jersey, serving 3.6 million people, Rubino said.

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