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NJBIZ Exclusive: Horizon CEO Marino on attacks from Christie: 'It keeps me up at night, but I strongly believe my reputation speaks for itself'

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Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey's Robert Marino.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey's Robert Marino. - ()

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey CEO Robert Marino has been at the helm of the company since 2011. In that time, the company has weathered a bounceback from the economic recession, the changes and investments involved in the Affordable Care Act, Hurricane Sandy and the contentious OMNIA rollout.

This year, he’s faced a different battle. One that is far more personal.

Gov. Chris Christie has publicly called out Marino and Horizon on numerous issues, including the company’s surplus, the compensation of its top executives and its highly paid public policy arm. He even has said the company has profited off of the sick and poor through managing Medicaid policyholders in the state.

In this excerpt from an exclusive interview with NJBIZ from his office in Newark, Marino talked about how he has been handling the personal criticism:

NJBIZ: It seems like you’re being attacked personally, rather than just the organization. What caused this?

Robert Marino: For seven years, I had thought that this company had a favorable relationship with the front office. On a personal level, my interactions with the governor, and they were limited ... I always thought they were favorable. I don't understand where this is coming from. Every year, the financials are filed; we just got through a five-year market conduct exam by the Department of Banking and Insurance where they come in and examine the books of the company — there was no issue on the reserves, there was no issue on executive compensation. Now, I have great respect for his passion about opioids, I really do think that man has some genuine concerns and passion around this. I can’t figure out what triggered this, or the personal attack. Obviously, it’s not pleasant to be attacked by a sitting governor, but I understand that’s the political reality of it. I’ve been in this business for over 40 years, and my reputation speaks for itself, and that's the only defense I have. My reputation. My family is very upset over it, the kids are upset over it, and it’s part of what goes on. It bothers me, it keeps me up at night, but I strongly believe my reputation speaks for itself. He can attack me every day and it doesn’t change the perception.

NJBIZ: He’s gone after the company and you from several angles. Let’s go one-by-one. He called out your compensation, that of your team, as well as said you have a lavish life and chauffeurs.

Friday: Marino on expensive lobbyists, OMNIA and Medicaid

Monday: Marino battles back — the Horizon CEO challenges the governor’s assertions

RM: I don’t have a home in the Hamptons, and I don’t own a home at the Jersey Shore. I’ve owned one property in 40 years of marriage. I have a driver. But I also understand that everyone in the governor’s cabinet has a driver.

I’ll tell you the story about that. So, I became CEO five and a half years ago. The board said, ‘Congratulations, and here’s your compensation’ … and they said, ‘You get a driver.’ A driver? I’ve been driving myself to work for 37 years. I like my car, I like listening to the radio, I don’t want a driver. (I was told) ‘No, you have to have a driver.’ After two weeks with a driver I figured out why the board wanted me to have a driver. They extended my work day by two hours as I’m in the back of the car doing emails, on the phone. That’s why they gave me the car. I used to listen to the radio, listen to a little opera, a little classical music. …

If I could leave you with anything, it’s that I’m not a greedy health care CEO. And to be unfairly attacked, I find that difficult. I spent literally my entire career here, I’m very passionate about what this company does, I’m a Jersey guy, I was born right here just up the street in Newark. I take great pride in what this organization does.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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