The Paramus Post

Assemblywomen Huttle, Wagner, Cruz-Perez & Voss Sponsor Bill To Protect Public

The Paramus Post — Friday, June 12, 2009

By Mel Fabrikant

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Connie Wagner, Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Joan Voss to require increased public participation and independent analysis when a health insurer moves to convert to a for-profit company was released today by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-3729) proposes more public hearings and a study by an outside consultant examining the health impact of any proposed conversion. The hearings and independent analysis would be required before the state grants approval for the conversion.

The bill comes as the state's largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, seeks to convert into a for-profit company.

"This bill simply ensures sufficient public participation and that every issue has been carefully reviewed before a decision is reached on a conversion application," Vainieri Huttle said. "We need extra caution when moving forward on issues that could, among other things, increase premium costs and influence the health care of so many New Jerseyans."

The bill would:

"Requiring increased public participation in a process as important as this is always a good thing," said Wagner (D-Bergen). "Such conversions can have wide-ranging impacts on all residents, especially when large insurers seek a switch, and everything must be considered and reviewed carefully to ensure consumers are protected."

"This bill doesn't oppose conversions," said Cruz-Perez (D-Camden). "It just seeks to ensure every angle of a conversion has been carefully reviewed and the public is given every opportunity to provide their input on such an important decision so patients are safeguarded."

"Conversions come with many concerns," said Voss (D-Bergen). "If a conversion is worthy, it should be able to withstand the utmost scrutiny. That's what this bill seeks."

The bill was released 5-0-2 by the Assembly Financial institutions and Insurance Committee and now goes to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.

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