Bergen County lawmakers seek delay for Horizon hospital plan

BY DUSTIN RACIOPPI Bergen Record

The Bergen County delegation of state lawmakers as well as the county’s executive and Freeholder Board have joined the effort to delay a new health plan anticipated to have a wide and possibly detrimental impact on Catholic hospitals and the uninsured.

A letter signed Tuesday by the 15 lawmakers from both parties was sent Wednesday to Robert A. Marino, chairman of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, and copied to Governor Christie.

Horizon, the state’s largest insurer, announced plans this month to roll out a tiered insurance plan that funnels patients to a select group of hospitals, known as Tier 1, including several in Bergen and Passaic counties. But about 90 percent of Catholic hospitals in the state were excluded from the list of hospitals included in the newly formed Omnia Health Alliance.

On Tuesday, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, and a group representing Catholic hospitals raised concerns that Horizon discriminated in its decision-making.

They requested a 90-day delay of the insurer’s plan.

The rest of Bergen County’s lawmakers on Wednesday joined that call for a delay. A Senate panel is also scheduled on Monday to hear testimony on the new plan.

“The very late announcement of this new plan followed by incomplete information regarding the selection of which hospitals satisfied ‘Tier 1’ requirements and which hospitals did not, has led to the perception that winners and losers were chosen behind closed doors,” the letter says. “This is not how a market dominant non-profit insurance company is supposed to operate.”

The legislators and local officials also said in the letter that while narrow and tiered networks have become “a seemingly attractive option for consumers” because of lower premiums, “quality of care and customer satisfaction have not necessarily improved.”

In Bergen and Passaic counties, the hospitals that made the Tier 1 list are Hackensack University Medical Center, HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley in Westwood, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson and St. Joseph’s Wayne Hospital. Those that didn’t are The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck and St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic.

The new plan, if put into effect, could force Catholic hospitals to close their doors and result in lost health care access for many of the state’s uninsured, the president of the Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey said this week.

Tom Vincz, a spokesman for Horizon, told The Record that the insurer “engaged in a thoughtful and deliberate process” in choosing which hospitals to include in the new plan.

On Wednesday, Vincz added, “We have just received the letter and will reply after review.”

Email: racioppi@northjersey.com