When Worlds Collide: Coughlin and Sweeney in Angioplasty Political Fracas

Democratic leadership from the NJ Assembly give a press conference after the chamber votes to approve the NJ 2020 budget.

It’s not what one would describe as a claymation death match.

Insiders say they expect both men to be upright at the end of it.

And friendly.

But mild scratching and clawing between Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) over a bill (A-3769) expanding angioplasty services reveals at least a degree of separation between the South Jersey and Middlesex brand names commonly identified as the vanguard of the Democratic Party establishment.

The good government bill is the baby of state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19), chair of the Senate Health

Coughlin and Vitale
Coughlin, right, backs up slate mate Vitale.

Committee who is very close to fellow Woodbridge denizen and slate mate Coughlin.

As it currently stands, a limited number of hospitals can diagnose and treat patients with angioplasty. Vitale’s bill would broaden the scope of permits, enabling patients to access closer-to-home treatment.

It conceivably hurts big providers like the Camden-based Cooper Hospital, bread and butter for the South Jersey-centric Sweeney.

Deliberate, cautious by nature and institutional in both style and substance, Coughlin was all ready to go with the angioplasty expansion bill (whose people’s house sponsors are battleground district paired Democratic incumbents Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker

Roy Freiman

and Assemblyman Roy Frieman in LD16), but Sweeney, ever the surefooted transactional pol, wanted something in exchange for moving the bill in the senate.

You want to do this, you gotta do that.

That’s the way it works.

That’s how politics functions, the senate president argues.

Specifically, as part of the deal to move Vitale’s legislation, he wants a so-called Patient Protection Act (A-5369), sponsored by Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31),


which would curtail insurance coverage to New Jersey patients seeking out-of-state hospital services.

It’s not a patient protection act, it’s the Norcross protection act, fume those close to the feud, citing the chairman of Cooper’s board, George Norcross III, whose political organization also stands at the center of legislative power statewide. It’s nothing more than a gussied up effort by Cooper to prevent patients from going over the river to the University of Pennsylvania and/or other hospital competitors, the bill’s critics say.

The bill’s champions note that the state’s big northern hospitals, Barnabas and Hackensack among them, also want the in-state incentives, and question why those intent on augmenting New Jersey business would oppose such a measure. But hospitals are not just any kind of business, a source said, arguing for patient flexibility and freedom as a priority.

Coughlin didn’t like the act (Senator Troy Singleton’s the upper house sponsor) Sweeney wants in exchange for Vitale’s bill.

He candidly questioned its constitutionality.

He doesn’t want it.

He doesn’t like it.

A headache.

He pushed back.

Then Sweeney pushed back.

Someone among the three Irish American guys running government in Trenton not named Governor Phil Murphy was in a political firefight with Sweeney.

If Coughlin wants angioplasty he’s got to move patient protection.

Coughlin wouldn’t do it.


So Sweeney wouldn’t budge on angioplasty.

Coughlin wants to move now and even though he knows he can get it through the assembly, he doesn’t want to see it stalled in the senate, and Sweeney won’t go unless the Patient Protection moves in concert.

Talks were ongoing – amid frayed nerves on both sides – at the end of summer.

“It’s one of the political fights going on in the state right now,” a statehouse source confessed.



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