An Essex County judge opened debate Tuesday on whether a proposed class action settlement with 50,000 New Jersey doctors is a sweetheart deal for Horizon Blue Cross and whether the doctors’ lawyer merits a $6.5 million fee.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Bernstein ruled that the Oct. 16 settlement, which requires reforms by Horizon but no money award, is “sufficiently within the range of reasonableness” to warrant consideration for final approval.

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