By Assemblyman John Wisniewski
Over the past 20 years, 25 New Jersey hospitals have closed, 10 of them in the past five years. Since 2007, another 11 hospitals have gone bankrupt. These losses have affected communities and individuals all across our state and the difficulties facing many of our remaining hospitals persist.
Contrast that with the auto insurance industry in New Jersey. Ten years ago, New Jersey faced a crisis with auto insurance. Our rates were among the highest in the country and insurers were looking to leave the state.
Today, following legislative reforms signed into law, New Jersey’s auto insurance industry is healthy and profitable and access to, and the price of, auto insurance for New Jersey drivers has substantially improved. Barely a week goes by that I don’t receive mail from an auto insurer soliciting my business.
With this frame of reference, last year, I agreed to sign onto legislation sponsored by an Assembly colleague that would exempt hospitals from caps on fees that could be charged by hospitals under an auto insurer’s personal injury protection (PIP) policy. The legislation applied to every hospital in the state, not just one as was implied in the article.
I added my name to the bill because I believe that hospitals need every opportunity to perform services at rates they can afford. I viewed the bill as a reasonable response to the vastly different state of finances in the two industries. The legislation was never heard in committee and the bill died with the end of the legislative session.
Given this background, you can imagine my outrage at the suggestion that my support for the bill was meant to benefit one hospital and was done in exchange for campaign contributions. It was not. The shaky foundation for the false charges rests on the fact that four years ago, I had a one-time business relationship with one of the hospital’s owners, who subsequently became a campaign donor and fundraiser on my behalf.
This was a bill on which I was not the original prime sponsor and which was co-sponsored by a ranking member of the opposite political party. It’s important to note that the legislation did not seek to create a new benefit where none had previously existed. Instead, it sought to maintain the status quo in the face of an auto insurance industry inspired proposal from the Department of Banking and Insurance to impose further limits on what hospitals could charge for certain procedures. I agreed to sign onto the legislation because it addressed concerns about a proposal that I feared would harm hospitals statewide.
Fundraising is an unhappy reality of running for office. Like most, I call upon friends and professional acquaintances to help raise money. The fundraiser cited in the article is both a friend and a professional acquaintance but I have not represented him professionally in several years.
With our state’s hospitals continuing to face financial difficulties, New Jersey can either respond with policies to help them survive or stand back and watch them continue to leave our communities. I chose to fight for our state’s hospitals and I make no apologies for that.
The author is an assemblyman representing the 19th legislative district.