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As budget battle rages, Christie blasts Horizon’s ‘carnival’ at the Statehouse

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie refuses to ease up his attacks against New Jersey’s largest health insurance provider.

As a controversial bill tied to the state’s budget threatens to lead to a government shutdown, Christie on Tuesday accused Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey of hosting at “carnival” at the Statehouse.

The governor blasted the insurer for having “put on that whole carnival yesterday” as Horizon advocates packed the Statehouse Monday to lobby against legislation.

“Maybe you all should be asking them how much that costs, how much all their lobbying costs, and that all comes from the policyholders,” Christie said at a public event in Trenton.

Christie: ‘Not ready to declare a crisis’

Christie accused Horizon officials of being hypocrites.

He argued Horizon officials oppose the proposal that’s bundled together with budget negotiations because they have “concerns about policyholder money.”

But when it comes to paying lobbyists to testify and trucks with digital billboards to park outside of the Statehouse, Horizon spared no expense, Christie said.

“I wonder how much that cost,” Christie said.

He added: “And by the way, policyholders paid for all of it.”

Christie’s comments are the latest in a controversial bill that advanced in the state Senate Monday. It would would give the state authority to decide how much Horizon may keep in its reserve.

Excess revenue would be diverted to a fund that would fund public health causes, such as drug treatment or other services for people who are uninsured.

It’s become a flashpoint in budget negotiations.

Gov. Chris Christie. 

Christie has promised to support the Democrats’ school plan. But only in exchange for the passage of two bills: The Horizon proposal and another that use state lottery revenue to help shore up New Jersey’s beleaguered public-worker pension system.

State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, however, is staunchly against tying any type of Horizon measure to the budget.

Christie has the option to order a state shutdown if a budget doesn’t get passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor by midnight on Friday.

Horizon, meanwhile, argues that it is standing up for its more than 3 million customers by fighting off attempts by Christie to cede portions of its reserves to the state.

“Horizon stood up for our policyholders when the governor first proposed his $300 million reserve raid,” Horizon spokesman Kevin McArdle said. “We’ll continue to oppose his radical plan that increases premiums and undermines the stability of the insurance that 3.8 million New Jerseyans rely on for healthcare.”

Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or on Facebook.

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