Christie target Horizon Blue Cross keeps strong 'A' credit rating

Robert A. Marino is chairman and chief executive of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, whose strong A credit rating was affirmed this week.

Profits at New Jersey's largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, fell for the third straight year in 2016, according to a Standard & Poor's ratings report distributed Friday by Horizon, which is based in Newark, N.J.

Horizon's net margin fell to 0.7 percent last year from 2.1 percent in 2013, the last year before the embattled Affordable Care Act took effect in individual markets. Many insurers suffered losses during those three turbulent years.

S&P described Horizon's business as "strong," benefiting from its leading market share in New Jersey, and its financial profile as "very strong," despite tightening reserve ratios caused by declining profitability.

The ratings agency was measured in its comment about Gov. Christie's effort to tap Horizon for money to help pay for drug treatment for the poor and uninsured, saying it would "view any such event as source of potential capital volatility."

Christie announced on Thursday that his administration had submitted "draft legislation that will provide more protections and transparency for taxpayers and consumers who are being fleeced and underserved by health service corporations, including Horizon Healthcare of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization whose most-profitable line of business is the Medicaid program."

Horizon is a nonprofit corporation, but not a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Instead, it is a organized under 501(m) under IRS rules, a type of entity created by Congress in 1986. Horizon pays most state and federal taxes.

Horizon had net income of $85 million last year on revenue of $12.18 billion, down from net income of $214 million on revenue of $9.49 billion in 2013, the S&P report said. The company insures 3.8 million people and has a 61 percent market share on the states's ACA exchange.