05.29.2017 0

Hey, Chris Christie, hands off Horizon Blue Cross!

By Rick Manning

As originally published at http://www.trentonian.com/opinion/20170525/guest-oped-americans-for-limited-government-hey-chris-christie-hands-off-horizon

What in the world is Chris Christie up to?

That is the question everyone in New Jersey politics, government, and business is asking themselves. Governor Christie has spent the better part of his final year in office pressuring Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield for $300 million annually to permanently fund state-run drug treatment programs for the poor.

Horizon is the largest health insurer in New Jersey, covering 3.8 million people. It operates as a non-profit organization, and since 2004, has run the Horizon Foundation through which it has given more than $44 million in over 1200 grants for public health programs in New Jersey.

The target that Christie has his eye on is the $2.4 billion that Horizon is holding in its reserve fund. These reserves are not a surplus, but a safety net to protect policyholders from unanticipated events or costs.

According to Standard and Poor’s credit rating agency, Horizon’s current “A” credit rating could be jeopardized by Christie’s attempted raid on these cash reserves. The worst part? Those reserves would have to be replaced meaning it is Horizon’s members who will end up paying what amounts to a $300 million hidden tax. Even if there were no financial repercussions for Christie’s actions, he has never answered why a private entity like Horizon should be forced to fund a government program.

Apparently, Christie is back to his old tricks, launching a full-scale assault on Horizon and putting the “bully” back in bully pulpit. In his annual budget address, Christie singled out Horizon for attack – even overstating the amount of its cash reserves. He personally attacked the non-profit’s executive leaders and accused the company of “poverty profiteering.”

Reminiscent of 1930’s socialist Huey Long, Christie publicly complained, “I am tired of listening to the paid mouthpieces of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield cry poor to the indigent in this state.” His audacity was so blatant it left political observers in New Jersey joking aloud about a last-minute party switch.

Christie is circulating a legislative proposal that would require that the company no longer operate solely for the benefit of policyholders, but now the “public at large” (read: government “honey pot”). Well before the governor rolled onto the scene, Horizon had already fulfilled this role, pledging $125 million for drug treatment and health programs for the poor. This generosity is apparently insufficient for Santa Christie, because it doesn’t pay homage to him.

The question isn’t whether Christie should be stopped; he should. But why the sudden lurch toward socialism, especially in the face of wide-scale opposition? Is it legacy, repentance, or ambition?

At the end of their careers, politicians – regardless of party or ideology — succumb to the disease of “legacy-itis.” There’s nothing more dangerous than a politician eyeing the history books, instead of the voters. If you’ve ever wondered why so many publicly funded projects are named after people you’ve never heard of, blame it on rampant legacy-itis. Who knows: the governor may be sitting at his desk and dreaming this very moment of the “Christie Opiate Decline (OD) Trust Fund.” Sadly, someone else is always left paying the bill for this terminal illness.

Another possible motive is legacy’s close cousin: repentance. While most people automatically associate the name “Chris Christie” with Bridgegate, the governor has been no stranger to scandal since his days as a U.S. attorney. As the head of a presidential task force on opioids, Christie has already been roundly criticized for letting New Jersey’s role in fueling the opioid crisis fester. Political repentance also has a cost – and Christie should not be using Horizon’s members as blank checks funding the rewrite of his political history.

The third possibility is political ambition for the future. While Christie’s historically low approval numbers likely preclude a future run for office, his on-again, off-again relationship with President Trump keeps him on the oft-mentioned list for openings in Washington. Let’s hope that his attempt to fleece Horizon’s members for opiate treatment is not a preview of things to come on the federal level.

Whatever his rationale, Christie is revealing himself as just one more politician trying to pull off one last power grab before leaving Trenton. For New Jerseyans sick and tired of the state’s reputation for political scandals, Governor Christie’s raid on Horizon Blue Cross and assault of their 3.8 million policyholders may finally be a bridge too far. And for the rest of us, it’s an example of why political power must be constantly and vigilantly checked.

Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.

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