Category: Clips

Bramnick joins in opposing Horizon Omnia Plan

Asbury Park Press -

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey’s Omnia health insurance plan needs to be more tightly regulated so that hospitals and doctors have a better chance to be included in its preferred network, a key Republican lawmaker said Thursday.

Jon Bramnick

Jon Bramnick, the Assembly Republican leader, also said Horizon’s Omnia plan unfairly disparages health care providers through the terminology it uses: Tier 1 for hospitals and doctors in its preferred network, Tier 2 for the others.

“I don’t believe insurance companies should pick and choose who gets the patients and who doesn’t get the patients,” Bramnick said.

In a press conference here, Bramnick joined a chorus of lawmakers – mostly Democrats – who have tried to stop Horizon from rolling out its plan. So far, they haven’t been successful.

Newark-based Horizon, the state’s biggest health insurer with 3.8 million members, introduced the Omnia plan last year to go into effect in 2016. While open enrollment for this year has ended, consumers who have a life-changing event can still purchase a policy.

Omnia works like this: Consumers who use so-called Tier 1 providers will have lower out-of-pocket costs. Consumers can still see Tier 2 providers but will pay more. Horizon touted the plan as an example of what was intended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare: better care at lower prices.

Tier 1 includes 34 hospitals statewide, including Monmouth and Ocean County hospitals owned by Barnabas Health and Meridian Health. Tier 2 has about 27 hospitals statewide, including CentraState Healthcare System in Freehold Township, the only Jersey Shore hospital not in Tier 1.

Horizon isn’t alone. AmeriHealth New Jersey and Aetna both have partnered with health care providers at the Shore to create tiered insurance plans. But Horizon has 56 percent of the individual health care market, according to the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, making it far and away the biggest carrier.

Hospitals left out of the top tier have cried foul and filed lawsuits to stop the plan. Among their arguments: the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance didn’t assess the risks the plan would have on the state’s health care system.

Horizon officials said Omnia is part of a bigger picture. Health insurance companies are beginning to pay providers not on how many services they provide but on the outcome, weeding out unnecessary costs.

It says the strategy saves money. In one program with 51 specialty medical practices, Horizon had fewer customers who had to be readmitted to the hospital after receiving knee arthroscopy, hip replacement and knee replacement. And it saw fewer unnecessary C-sections, it said earlier this week.

Bramnick on Thursday stood alongside hospitals, doctors and other lawmakers, who said Horizon has been heavy-handed. And not all of them objected to the idea of tiered networks; only that they weren’t given the chance to see if they could meet Horizon’s standards.

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Bramnick Calls for New Regulations Following OMNIA Investigation

PolitickerNJ -

Jon Bramnick

With doctors, nurses and administrators by his side, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) said Thursday that opposition to Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield’s much-maligned tiered health insurance plans is as strong as ever in the legislature. Speakers at this afternoon’s press conference came from the group of New Jersey hospitals pursuing a new lawsuit against Horizon for introducing plans that interrupt patient care and leave patients paying higher premiums and deductibles for the same services.

“I don’t believe that insurance companies should pick and choose who gets the patients and who doesn’t get the patients,” Bramnick said of the new plans, which designate hospitals and physicians as either ‘tier one’ or ‘tier two.’ Areas of South and Central Jersey found themselves with too few first-tier providers once the new plans went into effect last September.

Horizon has not made its criteria public, which Democratic lawmakers sought to change with a series of committee hearings and attempts to block the plan. A suite of Democratic bills is already circulating in the Senate with one measure to halt the rollout of tiered networks, one to force disclosure of network standards, and one to guarantee coverage regardless of where a patient lives. Horizon Blue Cross is the state’s largest insurer with 3.8 million members.

“The state insurance department needs to look at the regulation regarding networks. Some of these regulatory schemes have been set up a long time ago,” Bramnick continued, calling on state Insurance Commissioner Richard Badolato to change existing regulations so that hospitals can opt into the networks of their choice.

“We simply can’t throw hospitals out of their major networks without a reason,” he said.

“When you set up a network, all you have to do now is touch certain bases. Maybe there should be just one. Two, no insurance company should ever designate anyone first or second tier, first or second class without a legitimate basis in fact. That should be legislation if regulation doesn’t change.”

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39) said that she experienced the frustration and costliness of the new plans when she had to change specialists after a brain aneurysm.

“My neurosurgeon, who is one of the top neurosurgeons in the country, would not fall under the plan because he is affiliated with Valley Hospital, which is one of the hospitals that is within several miles of my home,” Schepisi said.

Democratic Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7), himself a physician and the chair of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, joined Bramnick in calling for regulatory changes from the Department of Banking and Insurance, which approved the tiered plans before their rollout last September.

“As time goes on, we know that our regulations, the way we look at our marketplace, needs to change,” Conaway said. “We may end of with gaps in coverage and care that may very well work to the detriment of patients.”

Asked about the timing of his announcement, Bramnick said that his opposition to the tiered plans has been consistent and that his own reservations have paralleled those of the Democrat-lead hearings. On the possibility of new legislation blocking the tiered network, Bramnick gestured to Conaway.

“Ask the democrats, they’re in the majority,” he said to laughter, saying that he believes he would have the support of Speaker Vince Prieto (D-36). “You would have to ask the Democrats as to deadlines. I don’t give deadlines as the minority leader.”

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Brown “still waiting to see the plan” on state takeover of Atlantic City

Source: Dow Jones Business News – New Jersey lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would pull Atlantic City from the brink of bankruptcy but strip local officials of their authority, setting the stage for a fierce debate over the city’s future.

The legislation introduced in the state Senate would give the state control for five years over all government functions, including the ability to sell Atlantic City’s assets, alter or terminate union contracts and sell bonds.

Chris A. Brown

State officials had previously described the measure as a takeover, while Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian called it a partnership. On Wednesday, Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from southern New Jersey, described it as an “intervention…”

Atlantic City officials reacted with anger to the legislation. “It’s not a partnership, it’s a dictatorship,” City Council President Marty Small, a Democrat, said at a council meeting Wednesday night.

Assemblyman Chris Brown, a Republican, said he wants to hear how the state plans to “right-size” the city’s budget, which has been subject to approval by a state monitor since 2010. Atlantic City’s tax base has contracted 64% since 2010, but its budget stands at nearly $250 million for a city of about 40,000 people.

“They have this legislation that says they’re going to take over the city. OK, what are you going to do differently?” Mr. Brown said. “I’m still waiting to see the plan.”

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O’Scanlon, Bucco, on Christie’s Budget Address

Source: Excerpted from NJBiz -

Gov. Chris Christie issued messages of fiscal responsibility and bipartisanship as he presented a $34.8 billion spending plan during Tuesday’s annual budget address. Legislative, business and policy leaders are weighing in on what Christie had to say.

Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman and Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon (R-Red Bank)

“The governor has demonstrated once again that he is a worthy steward of New Jersey taxpayer money. With yet another responsible, conservative budget, the governor has maintained critical funding of important services without increasing taxes on New Jersey families. Our state faces some serious financial challenges. With the governor’s vision and leadership, we will meet those challenges and make New Jersey a model for other states to follow. Trenton Democrats should borrow a page from Christie’s playbook and work together with us to make New Jersey more affordable for residents, and more attractive to employers. By fueling New Jersey’s capable economic engine with responsible policies, we can improve finances for all hard-working New Jerseyans, increase state revenue across the board, and make our state prosperous again. I look forward to working with my Democrat friends on the budget committee to ensure a fiscal plan that provides job opportunity and financial stability for working families, preserves pension and health benefits for public employees, and funds investment in our roads and bridges.”

Anthony M. Bucco

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph)

“The governor has presented a responsible budget that controls spending, funds education and reforms the state’s pension system. While the overall increase in state spending is 2.2 percent, core spending remains flat. In fact, it is important to note that this year’s spending growth is completely attributable to increased pension and health benefit payments. This further highlights the need for further reform in these areas. Focusing on direct property tax relief and promoting a more competitive business tax structure will make our state a more affordable place to live, work and retire. Both sides of the aisle must work together on a plan that continues to move New Jersey forward. These are challenging times and difficult choices must be made. The Legislature has a duty to taxpayers to pass a budget that responsibly allocates fiscal resources. I look forward to a rigorous and honest debate during the budget process.”

 

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Bramnick on taxes, competition and the constitution

Source: NJSpotlight - More money for education and the public-employee pension system. A continuation of an increased tax credit for the state’s lowest wage earners. And a call for a “reasonable agreement” on renewing New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Though the tone of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget message yesterday may have been combative at times, the substance of his proposed $34.8 billion spending plan lines up well with some of the biggest priorities for Democratic legislative leaders. And it also left some room for bipartisan cooperation going forward…

Jon Bramnick

Christie didn’t hold back on the political rhetoric during the more than 30-minute speech before a joint session of the Legislature in the State House yesterday afternoon. He accused Democrats of sabotaging an earlier deal on transportation funding, and he chided them for recently announced efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15.

But he also pledged to work with Democrats on the state’s thorniest issues, saying he has roughly 630 days left in office to get things done…

“He continues to say we can’t raise taxes, we need to be competitive with other states and can’t be doing stupid stuff in terms of messing with the constitution,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union). “It’s the same thing he’s been saying from Day One.”

In all, Christie’s new budget calls for a 3 percent increase in spending over the current, $33.8 billion fiscal year budget, relying on a modest 3.1 percent projection for revenue growth. That’s a shade under the growth forecast for the current budget, and much less than some of Christie’s prior spending plans.

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Rodriguez-Gregg talks about Christie’s $34.8 billion state budget

Burlington County Times -

With his failed presidential campaign behind him, Gov. Chris Christie unveiled a proposed $34.8 billion state budget Tuesday while calling for bipartisan cooperation during his remaining two years in state office.

Christie’s proposed budget includes a record high $1.9 billion payment into the state’s chronically under funded pension system, but includes no new funding for the beleaguered transportation trust fund, which is due to run out of money in less than six months.

The Republican governor, who ended his run for the White House last week, said he was ready to negotiate a solution for the transportation fund, as well as tackle the state’s pension woes, but he said it will require bipartisan cooperation from state lawmakers and an end to the Democrats plans to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot mandating quarterly payments.

“I am standing here to tell you I am willing to continue to fix the remaining problems,” Christie said during his speech before a joint-session of the state Legislature. “I am ready to work with you if you are willing to stop the partisanship and the reckless amending of our constitution just to score political points. We can sit and reason together for the next 630 days, or we can fight for the next 630 days and leave our citizens without hope.”

Christie’s proposed spending plan includes no new taxes and relies on modest 3.1 percent revenue growth, with nearly all of the increase going towards the larger pension payment, health care expenses and debt payments.

The budget includes about $100 million more in school aid so that all school districts will receive at least a small increase. State aid for towns and funding for the Homestead tax credit programs are essentially flat.
And while Christie called on lawmakers to eliminate the state’s estate tax during his State of the State speech last month, his proposed budget does not reflect that proposal.

Christie and lawmakers can reach an agreement on new revenues or another fix.

In his speech, Christie said there was still time to negotiate and replenish the crucial fund, but he was adamant he would not agree to a fix that involves solely on increasing the state’s comparatively low 14.5-cent gas tax.

“There is time to reach a reasonable agreement. But it will need to be the right one for the hardworking taxpayers of New Jersey,” he said, adding that a deal was close last year but that Democratic lawmakers walked away because they were worried about the impact on the fall elections for state Assembly.

The pension payments have also been a particularly contentious issue in the Statehouse in recent years as Christie has repeatedly said the state can not afford to make the growing payments called for under a 2011 pension and benefits reform law he signed.

Christie has reduced those payments and vetoed temporary tax hikes proposed by the Democrats in the Legislature in each of the last two budgets in order to make the full payments.

The reductions prompted several public employee unions to sue to force the full payments, but the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last summer that the 2011 law was not binding and that Christie could legally change the payments.

The reform plan he prefers would freeze the existing pension and create a 401(k)-like system and new health care benefits. The savings from the health care plans could be used to pay down the over $40 billion in unfunded pension liabilities over time.

His budget doesn’t reflect that reform plan, but it does rely on an projected $250 million in savings from new healthcare plans for state workers and retirees. The new plans are expected to come from the state plan design committees, which were created under the 2011 benefits reform law and include representatives from both the administration and labor unions.

Maria Rodriguez-Gregg

Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Evesham, praised the governor’s spending plan, arguing that it should help continue the state’s economic recovery.


“The Governor has constructed a plan to sustain New Jersey’s recovery even as economies around the world struggle,” she said. “Our state has consistently added jobs for New Jersey wage earners, the unemployment rate has dropped to the national average, and in 2015, we had the strongest private sector job growth in 15 years.”

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O’Scanlon talks about Chris Christie back on the job

Asbury Park Press -

Gov. Chris Christie, unseen in public since a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary ended his White House bid, emerged Tuesday to deliver his state budget speech and sell the Statehouse audience on a claim that New Jersey’s problems will have his full attention.

That claim drew applause during the speech and skepticism after. Senate President Stephen Sweeney said it’s up to Christie to prove being New Jersey’s chief executive matters to him again.

Christie opened his 38-minute speech by saying that his proposed 2017 budget “imposes no new taxes on the people of New Jersey,’’ then touched on the activity that had kept him so busy.

“I want to begin by saying thank you to the people of New Jersey for allowing me the great privilege of running for president of the United States,’’ he said. “While the result was not what I had hoped for, the experience has made me a better governor, a better American, and a better person. I owe that growth to the people of New Jersey and I intend to use it to make the next two years great ones for our state.’’

More: Christie budget counts on cutting health benefits

“Will you work with me to use those 630 days to help bring relief to our overburdened taxpayers?’’ Christie at one point asked of Democrats who control the Legislature.

Declan O'Scanlon

“The speech was pretty much what I had hoped to hear,’’ said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County. “It’s a conservative budget. I’m very happy to see the governor completely and enthusiastically engaged. He really cares about New Jersey. He’s here and he’s very interested in working with the other side of the aisle to fix the problems that we have.’’

Christie said he is counting on $250 million in savings from changes to public workers’ and retirees’ health plans to balance his proposed budget, though he didn’t provide many details on those changes.

 

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What people are saying about Christie’s ‘State of the State’ speech

Star Ledger -

Here are excerpts from Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State speech Tuesday and responses from state lawmakers and others who attended the address at the Statehouse:

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE

“The state of New Jersey is strong and growing stronger every day. And everyone who said that New Jersey is ungovernable was wrong.”

Declan O'Scanlon

Assembly Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth)

“Trenton Democrats should borrow a page from Christie’s playbook and work together with us to make New Jersey more affordable for residents, and more attractive to employers. By fueling New Jersey’s capable economic engine with responsible policies, we can improve finances for all hard-working New Jerseyans, increase state revenue across the board, and make our state prosperous again.”

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Bramnick reacts to 2017 Budget Address [video]

Source: NJTV News [video] -

NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron spoke with Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnickfollowing Gov. Chris Christie’s 2017 budget address.

Aron: Assemblyman Bramnick, your impression of the speech?

Bramnick: I think what he did was he called out the Democrats and said, listen, it’s time to continue with reforms. Don’t start changing the Constitution for more spending and let’s continue where we left off with bipartisan reforms to make it more affordable to live in New Jersey, simple as that. That was the message.

Aron: Did he look fully recovered from his defeat last week?

Bramnick: This guy has won tough hombre, man. I think he’s ready to roll. I can guarantee he’s going to be 100 percent in this fight.

Aron: He talked about out migration, something you talk about all of the time. I hadn’t seen this New Jersey Business and Industry Association survey he referred to but it said 2 million people have left the state, most to Pennsylvania and New York. What do we do about that?

Bramnick: You have to give people a reason to stay. You can’t be more expensive than Pennsylvania and New York and Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo he one upped us on that and he lowered the taxes just a little bit more than New Jersey. You have to get rid of this estate and inheritance tax.

Aron: Does that really make people leave their homes that the estate tax is a quarter of a percent lower?

Bramnick: I think it’s a combination of things. We have an estate and inheritance tax that’s one of the highest in the nation. People are afraid to leave their estate here to their children. People realize there’s no state income tax in Florida. You’re talking about up to 10 percent here. It’s a combination of things and we have to be very competitive to compete with other states and that out migration study showed billions of dollars have been lost. In order for us to increase revenues we need to keep people here.

Aron: What did you hear on the Transportation Trust Fund?

Bramnick: Everything is on the table, but there has to be some reductions in other taxes. He said he hasn’t ruled out a gas tax but he’s not going to allow people to just increase taxes without lowering other taxes and keeping people in this state and I think that’s a fair, moderate and reasonable approach.

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O’Scanlon calls $1.8 billion pension payment a ‘high priority’

Source: Excerpted from The Star-Ledger -

Gov. Chris Christie will propose a new state budget to the New Jersey Legislature on Tuesday, less than a week after bowing out of the Republican presidential race.

The budget address marks the Republican governor’s first public appearance since exiting that race and returning full-time to New Jersey after months of campaigning out of state.

Democrats have assembled a long to-do list over the past eight months, since the start of the current fiscal year, and Christie’s seventh budget will reveal where his priorities conflict or match it.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said Monday afternoon that he has spoken with Christie but won’t be briefed on the budget until early Tuesday.

“What I’m hoping to hear, I know he won’t say,” Sweeney said last week. “So I’ll leave it at that, which is funding early childhood education, committing to a solution for the pension, committing to a solution to the (Transportation Trust Fund). I don’t think I’m going to hear any of that, but that’s my wish list.”

Christie administration officials weren’t revealing details of the spending plan, but several big ticket items are on the table:

PENSIONS

The centerpiece of the budget Christie revealed last year was a sweeping plan to rethink public workers’ pension and health benefits, the work of his appointed pension commission, which warned that pension and health benefits could consume 27 percent spending by 2022.

Likewise, the commission last week revealed a follow-up report it says proves its proposal to move workers onto less generous health care plans could achieve billions of dollars in savings, so Christie could make another push for benefits reform.

How much Christie pays into the public pension system has been at the heart of his recent budget disputes with the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He has slashed payments to balance the budget, while Democratic lawmakers proposed raising taxes on millionaires and corporations to raise more money.

But Sweeney said Monday that a $1.8 billion payment in the upcoming fiscal year could spare a reprisal of that fight.

That payment would be in keeping with the payment plan Christie proposed in the current budget, to increase funding into the system until reaching the full amount recommended by actuaries. That schedule calls for him to contribute about $1.3 billion, in the current fiscal year, and boost it to slightly more than $1.8 billion, in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

A constitutional amendment Sweeney is pursuing to make annual payments mandatory also calls for $1.8 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) backs the commission’s plan, which he says will prevent draconian program cuts and tax hikes, but nonetheless said he wants to see the $1.8 billion payment made.

“It’s a high priority for me,” he said.

ESTATE TAX

Some expect Christie to follow through on a call he made in his State of the State address last month to abolish the estate tax.

New Jersey is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance and estate tax, and its threshold, $675,000, is the lowest in the U.S.

“It makes New Jersey unfair and uncompetitive,” Christie said in his January address. “The estate tax isn’t just something that affects the wealthy. It’s penalizing middle-class families who want to pass down the family home to the next generation.”

He said the tax structure gives people the incentive “to move to other states as they age, and when they do, to take their businesses and capital with them.”

While there’s some disagreement over whether the $675,000 threshold — the federal exemption is $5.45 million in 2016 — makes it a tax exclusively on the wealthy or also burdens the middle-class, Christie and some top Democrats agree it is driving wealth out of New Jersey.

Its elimination, immediately or over a few years, would leave in place the companion inheritance tax and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the budget. Together, they are the state’s third largest source of tax revenue (the lottery is larger but isn’t a tax).

“The people that suggest that fixing our estate and inheritance taxes is a giveaway to the wealthy just completely don’t understand tax policy and budgets,” said O’Scanlon, who sits on the budget committee.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

Sweeney and Prieto said the Transportation Trust Fund won’t necessarily make an appearance in the governor’s spending blueprint — “He doesn’t have to talk about it at all,” Sweeney said — but it’s linked to the estate tax.

Democrats want to raise the gas tax to replenish the trust fund, which is running out of money for new projects. When it was proposed by Gov. Tom Kean, the Transportation Trust Fund was 50/50 pay-as-you-go and bonding, but over time the balance has shifted toward more and more bonding, and debt payments are consuming existing tax revenue.

Two Senate Republicans, however, have argued the Transportation Trust Fund can be replenished with tax dollars from the state’s natural economic growth and without the help of a new tax at the pump. Theirs is a seven-year, $11.2 billion funding plan that relies on $6.6 billion in cash and $5.4 billion in borrowing.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) unveiled the proposal late last year, saying it would provide $1.6 billion in transportation funding a year, assuming tax collections grow 3.34 percent a year — slightly below the 3.4 percent the Christie administration is predicting this year.

EDUCATION

Prieto said he hopes Christie will offer funding solutions for the whole spectrum of education in New Jersey, from pre-k to higher education.

Prieto wants to spend an additional $110 million to expand public preschool in New Jersey. Under that proposal, dozens of low-income school districts could apply for state funding for full-day preschool programs.

New Jersey is already spending about $615 million in 2015-16 to provide full-day public preschool to more than 45,000 students, mostly in the state’s former Abbott districts, according to the state Department of Education. A federal grant helped 17 districts add full-day programs for 4-year-olds this school year.

But the state’s school funding formula calls for public preschool programs in dozens of other low-income districts and funding has come up short.

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