Prieto: Omnia Health Alliance Needs to be Addressed Before Problems Arise

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has clinched another two-year term as speaker with the full support of the Democratic Caucus. His plate’s already full, but first the perennial problem of how to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund to fix roads and bridges. He joined NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams to talk about how to fix the TTF.

Governor Christie indicated earlier this week that he’d consider raising the gas tax in exchange for phasing out inheritance and estate taxes. Prieto, who has been talking about the transportation trust fund for last two years, says it’s something important to do. “A gas tax seems like where to go and get those revenues to be able to do that,” he said. “At the end of last year, beginning of this year, we were in talks and in conversation and that was something that has been on the table, and that I was entertaining to figure out how we can, both parties, could come somewhere in the middle, jump off the cliff together. I said many times, and we hold hands like Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid, and jump together. Everybody has something that they feel passionately about, and the estate tax, I think is worthwhile looking at.”

The question is what will it take to make the TTF a priority when Governor Christie has said it’s really not a problem. Prieto says the money is going to pay down the debt, however, there’s more debt than money coming in.

“Every single penny goes to pay down debt. In this particular Transportation Trust Fund that we have existing right now, there was supposed to be $1.8 billion of pay gold in money that you put into it. We only put $75 million, so we borrowed everything. There’s not a problem if we borrow, but if we borrow, we are taxing our children, our grandchildren and it’s costing us a lot more money and we’re not getting to the root of our problem, which is our infrastructure that we need to upgrade,” he said.

On the Omnia Health Alliance plan, there is growing backlash against Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. The plan, which uses tiered levels of health care, designates certain areas, hospitals and doctors for favorable pricing. Prieto says lowering the cost of health care in New Jersey is “priority number one,” but to do that he says we need to be promoting wellness. “Of only selected hospitals that go in, we may have safety net hospitals that are in areas where the people are not very mobile, that can’t take advantage of the savings. And then if these hospitals, all that volume is driven to other hospitals, they could fail and we need to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Prieto says part of it is including the majority of catholic hospitals that were excluded from the plan. “We need to see how these hospitals can be worked in. Because in the beginning, it’s talked about that it would only be 10 percent of the volume. But if it’s something that is successful, that one year, two years, three years down the road, if a lot of the volume goes to these other six health systems and these tier one hospitals, then these other hospitals may have a problem. Acute care facilities, especially where I come from, and urban areas are very needed. And also, when you have Omnia, where you can save money where you have less deductibles and co-pays, no co-pays, you want to take advantage of that. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have those hospitals, and you can’t get there, then you won’t be able to take advantage of those savings,” he said.

He said it’s the State Senate’s job and obligation to the constituents to make sure that the process is done correctly. “We do invest money where there is charity care or a lot of things that we do as government to make sure that we’re the checks and balances for ultimately the residents of the state of New Jersey,” Prieto said.

Prieto wants to see that healthcare is lowered and affordable to everybody. However, he says, “it needs to be accessible to everybody. That safety net hospitals don’t fail. That we make sure that we protect them, because we’ve had a lot of problems.”

Prieto and others have advocated for a 90 day postponement in order to work through some of the issues. “The Senate is actually the first up for the hearings, but we’re going to see how that goes. The problem was that they couldn’t talk about it until October because of regulations. The enrollment period was going to be in November, implementation sometime in January. So we want to get this before it  goes somewhere, before it becomes problematic,” Prieto said. “We have questions: how was the implementation, how were the people chosen, how hospital networks were chosen? So we want to make sure that it was a fair process for everybody, and again, at the end of the day it’s all about the residents of New Jersey. That they can get quality, affordable healthcare.”