Use Lame Duck For Horizon Blue Conversion Bill, Advocates Tell Codey

NJBIZ — Tuesday, January 5, 2010

By Shankar P.

The New Jersey Horizon Watch Coalition, a group of health care and consumer advocates, has urged state Senate President Richard Codey (D-West Orange) to use the current legislative lame duck session to post for a full Senate vote for the bill on the proposed conversion of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield from a nonprofit corporation into a for-profit company.

The bill, S-2532, was introduced by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) in the Senate; it has already passed the Assembly.

The Horizon Watch Coalition said the passage of the bill would require the state's Department of Banking and Insurance to hire an independent expert to undertake a health impact study before issuing a decision on Horizon's conversion.

"A health impact study is necessary to assess whether the proposed conversion will or will not improve the health status of New Jerseyans, particularly vulnerable populations," said Eve Weissman, health care campaign coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action, a member of the Horizon Watch Coalition.

William Marino, president and chief executive of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, states on his company Web site that "concerns and questions about what our conversion will mean for New Jersey's health care system [are] ... appropriate, and the conversion law requires a rigorous public process to evaluate our conversion."

The conversion could generate more than $1 billion for the state's health care system without raising taxes, Marino said. Horizon is the only remaining nonprofit health insurance company in New Jersey, and is the state's largest insurer.

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