Horizon Distributes Millions From 2018 Federal Tax Refund … as Planned

Families, businesses, community-based initiatives benefit, but details are scarce

Just days before Christmas, some 143,000 New Jersey residents and business owners found a pleasant surprise in their mailbox: a check from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

The pre-holiday payments come from the $150 million that Horizon, the state’s largest health insurance company, pledged in February 2018 to disburse among policyholders and businesses with workers covered by their plans, according to a spokesman. But the news was still a happy surprise to some: “Kudos to Horizon,” one man posted on Twitter. “HOW COOL IS THAT??!!?!?!” noted another.

Horizon is also in the process of investing another $125 million among a dozen long-term initiatives designed to benefit its policyholders, including company-led programs to improve access to care and community-based partnerships to assist medically underserved residents. This includes using technology to help individuals with substance-use disorders connect with peer-support services, and collaborating with a provider network focused on improving care for Hispanic patients.

Thank you, President Trump

The total commitment of $275 million was made possible through the controversial tax reform approved by President Donald Trump in late 2017, which changed the way some corporations file income tax and resulted in massive rebates for many companies. Horizon, which insures some 3.8 million New Jerseyans, expects to be reimbursed $550 million over five years, with the first installment coming in 2018.

Horizon received praise for these plans when it announced its intentions in 2018 to reinvest the rebate, with the decision lauded by healthcare-policy experts, business leaders, and advocates for the working class. The news came in a year when customers saw prices of certain Horizon plans grow by 24 percent, on average, as a result of market instability; policy changes since then have led to lower prices for 2019 coverage.

But officials at Horizon offered few details on the disbursements, other than to say that they were mailed out on December 17 to the roughly 143,000 commercial customers, including individuals, families, and businesses of various sizes. (Those with Medicaid or Medicare managed plans were not included.) The checks ranged in size from $500 for individuals to $1,200 for families, the company said, and businesses generally received between $120 and $200 per employee.

“In addition, Horizon began in 2018 to make additional investments in more than a dozen different initiatives to improve access to healthcare, support open enrollment outreach in order to reduce the number of uninsured New Jerseyans, expand mental health and substance-use disorder services, address social determinants of health, and otherwise benefit its members on cost, quality, or the member experience,” Horizon spokesman Tom Vincz said last week.

Serving the underserved

Among other things, officials said this effort includes supporting a Newark-based program that is focused on improving care for underserved patients with complex-care needs, part of a joint initiative with RWJ Barnabas, the state’s largest healthcare network. The initiative addresses social determinants of health, or issues like poverty and housing safety, that can impact wellness.

Earlier this year Horizon engaged MAP Health Management, a Texas-based company, to help improve treatment options for patients with substance-use disorders. MAP employs technology to help manage individuals’ treatment plans and connect them, via telehealth, with trained peer-recovery specialists who have been sober for several years.

“Horizon continues to be an innovator when it comes to preventing and treating substance-use disorders in New Jersey, particularly opioid addiction. We know that the journey to recovery is long and difficult and that participating in a peer-support program like this dramatically improves a person’s chances of achieving long-term success,” said Allen Karp, an executive vice president at Horizon when the program was rolled out in October. “By working with MAP, Horizon is taking another step to increase access to programs and resources that can help our members get and stay on the road to recovery.”

And over the past year, Horizon has formed partnerships with Sanitas Medical Center, a multinational company that works in Florida, Connecticut, and New Jersey to expand culturally sensitive care for Hispanic residents in particular. That has led to facilities in Jersey City, Union City, and Belleville — three Hudson County communities with a high percentage of Latinos.

The facilities, independently owned and operated by Sanitas, provide primary care and wellness programs, some specialty care, lab services, and comprehensive urgent care, and are open to any Horizon member, regardless of national or cultural origin. They accommodate same-day visits for emergencies and lab services, and appointments for same week for primary care, according to Horizon.