Testimony got emotional and heated at a legislative hearing Monday on the impasse between BlueCross BlueShield and the company that runs 10 of Mississippi’s hospitals.
Lawmakers said they might step in if the insurer and hospital company can’t reach an agreement.
Hospital Management Associates says BCBS has a monopolistic hold on Mississippi’s health care market and is strong-arming hospitals to try to pay them less or force consolidation of services. They say the insurer dropping HMA from the network threatens to harm or shut down the 10 hospitals HMA operates. HMA wants the Legislature or state insurance commissioner to step in.
But BCBS says HMA hospitals charge too much for services and that the company is being investigated on a national level over charges by the federal government. They said another company is in the process of buying HMA, and some of its hospitals in Mississippi might shut down as a result of that, not anything BCBS is doing.
“There we go again, smearing the victim,” said Paul Hurst, vice president of Health Management Associates. “… (BCBS) is closing hospitals. They’re trying to make an example of us, so when they go to Rush or Singing River or Oxford next, they’ll say, ‘Look at HMA’s tombstone over there. You want to end up like that?’ … This is Blue Cross versus patients. This is Blue Cross versus Mississippians, not Blue Cross versus HMA.”
Several doctors and an executive with the University of Mississippi Medical Center testified to a joint meeting of the House and Senate insurance committees that BCBS’ hold on the health insurance market is threatening patient care and access to care and taking treatment decisions away from doctors. The meeting was packed, standing room only, mostly with doctors and lobbyists.
“To Blue Cross I say, shame on you, shame on you, shame on you, for using the health and lives of my patients as a bargaining chip for your corporate well-being,” said Dr. Joe Bailey, a gastroenterologist from Amory.
Charles Pace, corporate director of governmental affairs for BCBS, said: “No one, no one, no one has been denied access to care. There’s been a lot of misinformation and a lot of misstatement of facts. Go to your hospital; nothing has changed. Go to an HMA hospital; nothing has changed. We are trying to reduce the cost of health care and manage those costs. … In just a few months, the whole world is going to be turned upside-down (by the federal Affordable Care Act) and costs are going to go up 50 to 100 percent.” (Liar. Didn't he hear the President yesterday? He said no costs were going up. What does this guy know?)
BCBS and numerous hospitals have been at odds for years, with hospitals saying the insurer wasn’t paying them what it should for services and that it was using its huge market share (81 percent, according to the Kaiser Foundation; less than 60 percent, according to the state insurance commissioner) to strong -arm them.
HMA sued BCBS in June, claiming it had been underpaid $16 million. In response, BCBS canceled HMA’s contracts starting Aug. 31. This means patients would have to pay large out-of-pocket costs to use those hospitals or travel to others.
HMA is temporarily paying the difference for patients while the fight continues.
University of Mississippi Medical Center and BCBS, after months of haggling, reached a deal just before UMC would have been cut off, but that’s just temporary, for a year.... Rest of the article, Additional video coverage from WLBT
However, Blue Cross fired back in this press release posted below: