Legislation which would amend a state statute regarding the process for Horizon's conversion from a not-for-profit health care insurance provider to a for-profit insurer was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday by a vote of 3-0, with 2 abstentions.
The bill, S-2532, would make various changes to the process through which Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield could convert from a non-profit entity to a for-profit insurer. The measure would increase the number of public hearings held by the Department of Banking and Insurance from one to at least four, with one being held in the northern part of the state, one in the southern part, and two in the central part. At least two hearings would be held after the DOBI commissioner has received and made public all written reports obtained through the current conversion process, and, under amendments to the bill, the Public Advocate would be appointed to act as an intervener to participate at each hearing in order to represent and protect the public interest
"As the largest health insurer in New Jersey, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is responsible for providing access to care for millions of state residents," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), vice chairwoman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. "Any conversion of Horizon from a non-profit to for-profit status could have drastic and far-reaching consequences on the availability and accessibility of care in New Jersey. We must tread very carefully in allowing Horizon to convert to for-profit status, and we must ensure that New Jersey's Horizon subscribers are not put in jeopardy to benefit the bottom line of a health care corporation."
"Discussions about Horizon's conversion to a for-profit corporation have been going on for nearly a decade," said Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen), a committee member and co-sponsor of the proposal. "However, in light of the economic crisis facing our country, and the impact that high health care costs can have on a family's ability to make ends meet, more than ever we need to make sure that conversion makes sense for both health care consumers, as well as for Horizon. By increasing public scrutiny and requiring an exhaustive study of the impact of conversion on health care accessibility, we can make sure that Horizon's conversion is not accomplished on the backs of hard-hit health care consumers."
In addition to the public hearings, the banking and insurance commissioner would=2 0be required to hire a consultant to prepare a health impact study of the proposed Horizon conversion, in order to assess the effects of conversion on Horizon subscribers. The health impact study would have to address questions regarding the accessibility, availability and quality of care under the conversion plan for Horizon subscribers, as well as analyze the business plan and proposed rate changes, compared to other insurers, and the effects on the cost of care for subscribers.
In 2001, the Legislature created a statutory procedure that would allow Horizon to apply for conversion to a for-profit corporation. Currently, an application for conversion is pending before the DOBI, but is not yet complete. This legislation would have to be signed into law before the application process is completed in order to have the additional public interest safeguards in place on the conversion process.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
â€” TOM HESTER, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM