Christie raid on Horizon would be bad policy and bad business

Christie Economy
Gov. Christie speaks at a news conference in his offices in Trenton.

Gov. Christie spent his first seven years in office raiding funds to balance budgets. Now, he’s moving up to strong-armed robbery. He wants to take $300 million a year from the reserve funds of non-profit Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to pay for opioid treatment programs.

The opioid epidemic must be stopped in its tracks, but not by raising premiums for the 3.8 million New Jersey residents Horizon covers. Christie is exploiting Horizon’s status as the state’s only not-for-profit health services corporation. The governor has not asked any other insurance company to kick in cash.

He also sweetened the deal for the Legislature by offering to pack the 15-member Horizon board of directors by adding two members each appointed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. Prieto is wisely resisting this power grab, so should Sweeney.

Christie’s approach to budgeting is like raiding the refrigerator and then breaking into a neighbor’s house to steal his ice cream. Depleting Horizon’s reserves is bad policy and bad business. No one knows the future of the insurance industry with Congress diddling with Obamacare. Prudent companies must protect their reserves to prepare for the possibility of increased costs leading to huge premium hikes.

Giving up a chunk of its reserves would make Horizon no different from a governor and Legislature whose shortsighted refusal to adequately address the state’s pension crisis has drained its ability to pay for programs like opioid treatment.

Christie has tried to make his assault on Horizon more palatable by pointing out the excessive compensation paid to CEO Robert Marino, who took home $4.5 million in pay and bonuses last year. Christie wants a bill passed that would require salary and bonus information for Horizon’s top executives to be posted online for ready access by the public.

Marino’s salary and bonus package is insulting to people who struggle to pay their monthly premiums, not to mention extra fees for failing to use a generic drug or seeing a doctor out of network. But Marino’s pay should be addressed separately.

Paying for opioid addiction treatment would be easier if Christie and New Jersey’s members of Congress figured out how to stop the federal government from skimming more money from New Jersey than it returns to the state.

For every $1 in taxes New Jersey sends to Washington, it gets only about 61 cents back. That’s the worst ratio in the nation, according to census data and a study by the Tax Foundation.

Instead of paying for opioid treatment by requiring struggling families to pay more for their health insurance, Christie should be badgering Congress and the White House to expand programs to help drug addicts. That’s a more cost-effective and compassionate way to address the crisis.