Patients with Empire BlueCross BlueShield health insurance may have to pay more out of pocket for services at Hoboken University Medical Center starting later this year, according to a letter the company sent to customers dated Feb. 6.
The new owners of Hoboken University Medical Center have a track record of canceling and renegotiating contracts with health insurance companies when they buy a new hospital. If the hospital and the insurer can’t reach an agreement about rates in the next few months, the contract will expire May 1 – although patients can stay in-network through Aug. 30. After that date, patients may have to pay a much higher out-of-network fee for hospital services, or use a different hospital.
When the ownership group bought the hospital from the city last fall, HUMC’s Chief Executive Officer Phil Schaengold noted in an interview with The Reporter that the hospital had been struggling under the city’s ownership because he said the hospital was not getting a fair return from insurance companies. Empire BlueCross BlueShield is one of very few insurance companies currently with a contract in place at HUMC. Most others have been canceled and are being renegotiated.
“Empire BlueCross BlueShield has been negotiating with Hoboken University Medical Center for a new multiyear agreement,” according to the letter. “We regret to inform you that Hoboken’s contract with Empire will terminate effective May 1, 2012. However, based on the application of NJ state law, a four-month ‘cooling off’ period shall apply to the HMO and HMO/POS. This means that the terms of the contract remain in effect and you and your dependents can continue to receive care at Hoboken on an in-network basis until Aug. 30.”
If a new contract is set by Aug. 30, in-network benefits will continue.
If there is no new contract, according to the letter, emergency room services will continue to be covered according to the terms of customers’ plans. The letter also says that people who have been using the hospital for ongoing situations, such as pregnancy, will get another period to stay in network (specifics are contained in the letter).
Spencer Baretz, a spokesperson for Holdco, issued a statement to the Reporter on Thursday.
“Patients need to know this is not an issue they need to worry about; nearly all Empire Blue Cross patients will still be covered because of our relationship with Horizon Blue Cross, which covers them,” he said. “Hoboken University Medical Center is actively negotiating with Empire to reach a new agreement. As we did successfully with Horizon and other insurers, we are committed to solidifying contracts with insurers which will protect our patients and ensure the hospital’s viability so that it may continue as a foundation of the Hoboken community.”
City workers are covered under Horizon BlueCross BlueShield, so they do not have to worry about the change. Before the city sold the hospital to HUMC Holdco last year, the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority stated that city workers would be covered as “in network” patients.
The Reporter asked the city last week if they are doing any follow-up to check, on behalf of the citizens, where the hospital is in terms of negotiating with other insurance companies. A city spokesman said the mayor and the hospital’s CEO still have a relationship and meet regularly to discuss business.
Police unions: We need at least 15 more cops
The two unions of the Hoboken Police Department are calling on Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration to hire a minimum of 15 more police officers, citing low staffing levels and an alleged increase in “lawlessness, anti-social behavior, and criminality,” in a letter to citizens and business owners.
Zimmer, in her state of the city address earlier this month, touted a 16 percent decrease in crime, which came after a retirement plan in the Police Department cut approximately $3.8 million in salary savings.
The crime rate per 1,000 residents dropped from 26.3 in 2010 to 22 in 2011 – a 16 percent decrease. However, aggravated assaults increased by 36 percent, robbery by 88 percent, and burglary by 3 percent, according to the letter from the unions.
The letter, which is signed by local union leaders Vince Lombardi and Edmond Drishti, states that the department has been forced to cut the Community Policing Bureau – a specialized unit to educate citizens in crime prevention – as well as the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, and the Gang Resistance Education And Treating (G.R.E.A.T.) program. They also say the city “may very well have to remove” some or all the officers from the newly-established Hoboken Housing Authority police bureau.
“The last time the city hired new officers was in February of 2008 and we are in dire and desperate need of new officers,” according to the letter, which states that the department is at its lowest staffing levels since 1995, with 89 police officers.
“We implore Mayor Zimmer to act swiftly and authorize the hiring of a minimum of 15 full time police officers to plug the gap in our city’s primary line of defense and public safety preparedness with a focus on restoring those specialized units that were eliminated,” according to the letter.
Zimmer, Police Chief Anthony Falco, and Public Safety Director Jon Tooke released a joint statement in response to the union’s letter.
“We are committed to implementing every strategy and resource possible to protect our community,” according to the statement. “While some categories of offenses have gone down and some categories have gone up, including reported sexual assaults which occurred disproportionately on the weekend of our St. Patrick’s Day parade, overall crime in Hoboken is down significantly. According to Uniform Crime Reports and Hoboken Police Department data, there were a total of 1,260 reported crimes in 2009, 1,135 in 2010, and 1,062 in 2011 – a decrease of 15.7 percent in two years. The number of calls for service to the Police Department dropped from 63,009 in 2010 to 58,185 in 2011, a decrease of 7.7 percent. While overall crime has been reduced, even one crime is one too many, and we will continue to do everything to keep our community safe. Next week we look forward to announcing a new initiative to protect our residents and visitors.”
Connors School in Hoboken recommended for state funded upgrades
Gov. Christopher Christie on Tuesday announced the recommendation of new capital school construction projects in 18 of New Jersey’s municipalities that will boost students in some of the state’s neediest districts.
Gov. Christie made the announcement that the Schools Development Authority of New Jersey has identified Connors Elementary School in downtown Hoboken as a facility in serious deficiency and in need of rehabilitation.
“These upgrades are essential to a productive learning environment,” said Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hoboken), who said he advocated directly to the SDA on behalf of the Connors School. “By having a modern day classroom, these students can feel good about their school and community.”
In 2008, the SDA awarded $271.2 million to the entire 33rd Legislative District. This funding was used to build new schools in West New York, Union City, and Jersey City. Hoboken was supposed to receive funding to renovate the Connors Elementary School, but has not received funding until this year.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer joined the governor at the press conference and thanked him for including Connors School. Zimmer also lobbied the governor in 2010 to help improve Connors.
County golf course may be target of FBI raid of HCIA offices
Questions regarding overtime on construction of the new county golf course and possible part-time employees who were paid but did not show up may have been what led the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to seize computers at the office of the Hudson County Improvement Authority Wednesday, said an official connected with the situation.
On Wednesday, five white vans arrived at the Summit Avenue office to remove computers from the HCIA offices.
The HCIA is an autonomous agency that has lent money over the years to municipalities for their projects. It also oversees countywide recycling, transportation, affordable housing and other services, and has used its bonding power to help fund large projects such as the golf course and recently parking facilities for the Red Bull Stadium in Kearny. Loans from the HCIA have helped various municipalities deal with budget shortfalls, such as the acquisition by the HCIA of public buildings in Union City and Bayonne over the last decade.
The county is currently constructing a golf course at Lincoln Park in Jersey City adjacent to Route 440. The work, which has been underway for more than a year, has included the demolition of buildings that formerly housed the Sheriff’s Department and other operations off Duncan Avenue.
The investigation, sources say, could also involve questions about the bonds sold to pay for the project.
City announces details of new Hoboken Irish Cultural Festival scheduled for March 14
Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration announced the formation of a new celebration of Irish-American culture following the cancellation of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The celebration is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Sinatra Park.
The event will include Irish sport, dance, music, and food, and is free and open to all ages. Proceeds from concessions will go to the Hoboken Shelter and the Hoboken American Legion.
“With the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade recently cancelled, as an Irish-American Hobokenite, I have to say I was saddened,” said Chris Halleron, a lead organizer of the event, in a press release. “Upon hearing the news, I immediately reached out to Lea Simone, Marc Gianotti, and Scott Katz — who run The Pier Sessions, which is an ongoing concert series at the Shipyard Marina. Their model of a grassroots community concert with proceeds going to charity really established the framework for this event. In running this idea past Hoboken’s City Hall, they were immediately supportive and enthusiastic, so we joined forces to produce the event at Sinatra Park.”
The event will include a hurling demonstration as well as live music.
Hob’art to host opening exhibit at new gallery space on Feb. 25
Hob’art, a formerly nomadic art organization, will host their first exhibit at their new home in the Monroe Center (720 Monroe St., 2nd floor, Room E-208) on Feb. 25 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The first art exhibit is called “The Celebration Art Exhibit.”
The gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and by appointment all other times.
For more information, visit hob-art.org.