Horizon BCBS of New Jersey Hires Top Lobbyist

The hiring of William J. Castner, Jr., comes after St. Peter's Hospital won the right to a hearing where the insurer will have to give more details on why it left the hospital out of its OMNIA network. However, a spokeman for the insurer said the hiring is due to a restructuring.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey today hired a top lobbyist from the state capital, a month before it faces a court hearing on a controversial hospital network.

William J. Castner Jr., of the law firm and lobbying practice Gibbons PC, was named Senior Vice President, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, with oversight for government affairs, public affairs and enterprise communications. He will report directly to Horizon BCBSNJ Chairman and CEO Robert A. Marino, according to a statement from the insurer.

The timing of the announcement is significant for a few reasons. It comes a week after St. Peter’s Hospital of New Brunswick won the right to court hearing, where Horizon will have to give more details on why it excluded the hospital from OMNIA, its new network and health plan that aligns with a broad effort to expand value-based care in the state.

However, Horizon's top spokesman, Thomas Rubino, told the news outlet NJBIZ that Castner's hiring was the result of a restructuring that will put several departments under one person, and, "This has nothing to do with OMNIA."

Today is also the midpoint of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, an annual gathering of thousands of elected and appointed officials from every level of government. The string of receptions this evening make up the biggest political networking event of the year, and Castner's departure for Horizon promises to be a topic of conversation.

At Gibbons, Castner had been named head of the firm's government affairs department in February 2015, overseeing an expanded office in Trenton, the state capital, with a specialty in healthcare. He previously served as chief counsel to former Governor Jon Corzine and as executive director and general counsel to the Assembly Majority. In a key assignment, he took leave from Gibbons to serve as the Democrats' counsel to the commission that reapportioned legislative districts after the 2010 census. Democrats emerged from that process with majorities firmly intact.

Castner’s ties to the legislature will be of particular importance. Lawmakers from both parties, but Democrats especially, have questioned how OMNIA selected health systems for the new network. An October 5, 2015, Senate hearing on the plan served as a deposition of sorts for Marino and other senior Horizon executives. While Horizon has offered a broad description of the criteria it used to create the network, precise information for individual hospitals has not been provided.

St. Peter’s alleges in a lawsuit that it signed a contract with Horizon that required the insurer to give it an opportunity to take part in any new network or products. A judge has set a court date of December 17, 2015, for Horizon to give more details on why St. Peter’s was not selected for OMNIA.

Horizon presented OMNIA on September 10, 2015, as a way to expand valued-based care on a broad scale while simultaneously creating a health plan that would charge rates 15% lower than its current plans. Made up of several multi-hospital systems and a physicians’ network, OMNIA partners would agree to invest in population health strategies, including information sharing, that would bring down costs. Partner hospitals would also accept lower rates in exchange for having more patients routed their way.

Hospitals that were not asked to take part, which include many independent, urban hospitals and all but one of the state’s Catholic hospitals, fear the loss of patients with full insurance coverage will undermine their finances, and some will not survive.