Gov. Chris Christie announced sanctions against Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, accusing the state's largest health insurer of "brazenly" failing thousands of Jersey's poorest residents when it was cited for mishandling Medicaid claims.
Christie, a Republican, lashed out at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield during a news conference in Trenton on Wednesday. The insurer has been fined $15.5 million.
The governor said Blue Cross Blue Shield is sitting on a surplus of over $2.5 billion, money he alleges was accumulted by withholding payments to providers and denying services to patients.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
"They only have two profitable lines: medicaid and investment on income. And holding back payments, as they have been found to do by the Department of Human Services, inproperly holding back payments to providers in the medicaid program is another way to keep their money longer and make more on their investments," Christie said. "It's absolutely unconcionable to do that to the health care providers and the most vulnerable in our state."
The insurance company says the governor's comments amount to "retaliation" since the company opposes the governor's proposal to tap into the firm's surplus for $300 million to treat drug addiction.
"We were blindsided by both the timing and severity of this action," Horizon spokesman Kevin McArdle said in a statement. "It makes us question the motivation behind levying a large, and unreasonable, penalty without permitting the opportunity for the customary appeal and review. Horizon NJH will be filing a formal challenge to this unfair and unjustified action."
Christie's news conference comes in the waning days of the fiscal year when he and the Democrat-led Legislature are discussing the state's proposed $35.5 billion budget.
Christie is also leading a national effort commissioned by President Donald Trump to combat the opioid epidemic and is dedicating his final year in office to the problem.