Assemblyman Louis Manzo drafted a bill that would charge an assessment to those insurance companies and health maintenance organizations doing business with the state. This would help defray the cost of the state providing prescription drug benefits to specific adults receiving Medicaid.
The bill would also prohibit these companies from passing on the cost of the $8.1 million assessment to their customers.
"It's about time we addressed the growing and already outrageous cost of prescription drugs - especially in the case of our state's neediest residents," Manzo said. "It is unconscionable that insurance companies have the audacity to administer such high charges at times when they continue to reap such great monetary benefits and residents are left with the burden of a lagging economy."
Several studies, including one done for national insurance companies by the firm of Milliman & Robertson, show that prescription drug costs are the leading increase in health care costs, in some cases rising as much as 28 percent a year.
Manzo's legislation comes at a time when many states have launched programs to reduce the cost of prescriptions, prompting lawsuits and other reactions from various drug companies. According to a published account in the Wall Street Journal, these state initiatives have cut into company profits.
Manzo said he was prompted to act because the state - in order to balance the budget - has increased the co-pay from $2 to $10 for people on Medicaid.
But Manzo said the health insurance companies need to be held accountable.
"We're asking the poorest of the poor to come up with $10," he said. "This means we're asking people on fixed incomes to choose between purchasing food, rent or medication. When it comes to that choice, people are going to choose to eat and to have a roof over their heads. As a result, people skip their medicine and wind up getting hospitalized."
Manzo said he targeting the insurance companies because the companies have never fully opened their books, leaving many in the legislature to suspect their profits are extremely high.
"The CEOs of these companies are among the highest paid in the county, suggesting that profits are good," he said.
Manzo said complaints from hospitals around the state show many insurance companies refusing to honor what appear to be legitimate claims.
"So hospitals have to fire nurses and hire lawyers and accountants to get paid," Manzo said.
"This," he said, "despite high premiums paid."
"It is unconscionable that insurance companies have the audacity to administer such high charges at a time when they continue to reap such great monetary benefits, and residents are left with the burden of a lagging economy," Manzo said.
Critical time For many seniors, Manzo's move comes at a critical time because changes in federal laws governing Medicaid may soon make it impossible for New Jersey to provide two key prescription discount programs that have helped control the impact of rising costs. Under federal legislation due to go into effect in 2006, seniors will have to choose between private companies providing fewer services or paying more for existing Medicaid services.
And according to Rep. Bob Menendez (D-13th Dist.) the prescription card currently being offered by the federal government will not guarantee discounts on specific drugs, leaving seniors open to sharply increasing costs.
Sending in the detectives
Legislation that would overhaul New Jersey's regulations for private detectives was passed by the state Assembly on June 10.
This bill, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone, is the first major change in regulations since the 1930s and would update licensing standards and other regulations for private investigators.
Under the regulations drafted nearly 65 years ago, private investigators were granted police-like privileges, allowing often untrained or under-trained people to act like law enforcement officers. This lack of training and oversight could pose a risk to the public and be a cause of abuse.
"The laws regarding private investigators have gone virtually untouched for 65 years," Chiappone said. "It is well past time that the law recognized that the days of the hard-boiled gumshoe are over."
The law would prohibit anyone from becoming a private detective who has been convicted of a fourth degree crime, drug offense or any other offense deemed by the state police superintendent as contrary to the public safety.
Private investigators would no longer be able to enter private property in pursuit of anyone who jumped bail, and the private detective would be allowed to possess a firearm only if properly licensed by the state.
But the law would also allow private investigators to seek a wider range of information on individuals such as background information, certification, training, or the linage of people, associations or organizations and other information covering employees, agents, contractors or subcontractors.
The law would also remove the outdated stipulation requiring a private detective applicant from needing the signatures of five county freeholders, and would require the names merely of five private citizens who have known the applicant more than three years and can testify to the applicant's moral character.