When three assemblymen sponsored legislation last year that would exempt hospitals from state efforts to cap fees on outpatient procedures performed under auto insurance policies, critics said their goal was to help Meadowlands Hospital, which had spread hundreds of thousands of dollars around the state in campaign donations and lobbying fees.
Two of the lawmakers, Assemblymen John Wisniewski, (D-19), Sayreville, and Jon Bramnick, (R-21), Westfield, who each received thousands in donations from the hospital’s owners and others tied to the group and who both had previous business dealings with one owner, countered the claims, saying the bill was not aimed at Meadowlands and would have helped all hospitals across the state.
But an email obtained by PolitickerNJ shows that the trade group representing 71 of the state’s 73 hospitals had no interest in the bill and did not support it, preferring instead to work with state officials on the solution.
” I wanted to follow up with you regarding NJHA’s official position on A-4236 (Prieto), which would clarify that hospitals are not subject to a PIP medical fee schedule,” said the email from New Jersey Hospital Association Senior Vice President Randy Minniear to a staffer in the office of Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, (R-24), Sparta. “I wanted to clarify that NJHA is NOT pursuing this legislation.”
Minniear goes on to explain that NJHA was in discussions with the state Department of Banking and Insurance over the proposed regulations and as such was “not engaged with the Legislature in any capacity at this time, as we believe the Department’s actions will be compatible with our collaborative efforts.”
“I wanted to relay this to you, as I have been made aware of some suggestions that NJHA was supporting this bill and pursuing its passage,” the email concludes. “Again, that is not the case.”
In the months before and after the bill was introduced, Winsiewski, an attorney who represented Meadowlands owner Richard Lipsky in a 2008 Bayonne development deal, received well over $70,000 in donations from Lipsky and other owners and employees of the hospital as well as others with ties to the ownership group.
Bramnick, who until two years ago leased space in a building he owns to Lipsky, received at least $13,000 in donations from the owners and others tied to them.
Asked if he was aware that the NJHA was not supporting of the bill, Wisniewski said he didn’t ask the advocate for its opinion.
“It is not unusual for a lobbyist to wait until there is a committee meeting on a bill to make their position known,” Wisniewski said. “In this case, there was no hearing on the bill and the hospitals’ lobbyist, NJHA, did not communicate to me either their support or opposition.”
Through a spokesman, Bramnick did not answer specific questions about the bill, or the Hospital Association’s position on it, saying only that he continues to support hospitals, doctors and patients throughout the state.
“I have always been an advocate for patients, doctors, and New Jersey hospitals. Hospitals and doctors are having a difficult time providing care to patients because insurance companies are constantly trying to reduce reimbursements and limit the care provided to patients,” he said. ” I will continue to advocate for the fair treatment of all patients, doctors and hospitals.”
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), Secaucus, the primary sponsor of the bill, said he backed the legislation after he was approached by a lobbyist for Meadowlands who explained the state was attempting to impose a new cap that could be financially harmful to hospitals.
Prieto, who represents Secaucus, where the hospital is located, received no donations from Meadowlands owners or employees, and said he believed the bill would have helped hospitals throughout the state.
The regulations, proposed last summer, would have instituted a fee schedule for outpatient procedures performed under auto insurance personal injury protection (PIP).
The rules would end exorbitant billing practices like those of Meadowlands Hospital, which had a reputation for charging fees as high as 3,000 percent more than those charged by outpatient surgery centers where many of the procedures in question are traditionally performed.
According to a representative of the auto insurance industry, Meadowlands was the only hospital not adhering to caps already in place for outpatient surgery centers and was at the heart of the proposed regulations.
Internally, one DOBI official took to calling the proposal “the Meadowlands rule” and did so even in public stakeholder sessions.
“I can tell you, these regulations were unequivocally written for Meadowlands Hospital,” said one DOBI insider who asked not to be identified.
Wisniewski said he was not aware that DOBI was aiming the bill at Meadowlands.
“I have also never heard of anyone at DOBI referring to the rule the department was working on as the “Meadowlands rule”. Such a characterization from DOBI would be surprising given that the Christie administration eventually withdrew it. The department then proposed a new rule that satisfied my concerns,” Wisniewski said in an email.
Both Wisniewski and Bramnick have denied that the previous business relationships or the campaign donations had anything to do with their signing onto the bill and each says they were advocating for all state hospitals.
The bill has been reintroduced in the new session of the Legislature, but both Wisniewski and Bramnick have removed themselves as sponsors.
Meadowlands has since ceased doing PIP outpatient procedures.