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JW Investigates if Gov. Christie's Effort to Extort $300 Mil from Insurance Co.

• Judicial Watch

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to force the state's largest health insurance company to dole out $300 million for a drug addiction treatment program for the poor, an egregious cash grab that media outlets call a "shake down" and "extortion." Judicial Watch has launched an investigation into the Republican governor's outrageous targeting of a nonprofit healthcare provider, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, that functions as a tax-paying health services corporation with nearly 4 million policyholders.

Here's some background before getting into the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed by Judicial Watch last week; months ago, Christie launched a peculiar campaign to dig into Horizon's multi-billion-dollar surplus to fund addiction programs as part of an effort to crack down on the state's opioid epidemic. The unusual plan has encountered fierce opposition from a multitude of sources, including Democrats and Republicans, not to mention Horizon and the insurance industry in general. Christie has kept pushing, insisting that legislation be introduced to force Horizon to fund his dubious addiction experiment. A local newspaper reported that New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refuses to support such a measure, calling it a "bad bill."

The same newspaper article said that "Christie's push to get some money from Horizon included a news conference on Wednesday to spotlight $15.5 million in citations against Horizon over its Medicaid contract compliance with the state, which the governor says predates his effort to use their surplus. He said the citations show that his proposal, which also includes adding board members and requiring the insurer to post information online, is needed." However, Christie refused to reveal the citations and when the media tried to obtain them through the Open Public Records Act, the governor's office asserted that "contractual obligations" prevented the release of the documents. Information involving the mysterious multi-million-dollar fine levied against Horizon is among the records Judicial Watch has requested from the Office of the Governor.

When disclosing the citations didn't work, Christie threatened to withhold school funding unless state lawmakers pushed through legislation giving him $300 million from Horizon and power to add four political appointees to its board of directors. A local news report said Christie threw "an 11th-hour grenade" into state budget negotiations and called his Horizon cash grab a "raid." This week a state Senate committee voted to allow the governor to control how much surplus Horizon may keep. "The state could require this extraordinary amount of control because Horizon's charter would be changed to say it "shall have a charitable mission … to fulfill its obligation as an insurer of last resort in this state," a local newspaper article states. The Assembly would still have to approve the measure and that seems unlikely according to the speaker's public comments.

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