/UMMC, Blue Cross agree to mediator in insurance contract dispute

UMMC, Blue Cross agree to mediator in insurance contract dispute

Walter Johnson, senior counsel at Watkins & Eager will serve as mediator. According to Johnson’s bio, he has “mediated and arbitrated hundreds” of cases for parties within and outside Mississippi since 1994. Mark Haire, Mississippi Deputy Commissioner, said that Johnson will be the mediator. Haire stated that Johnson will reach out to each party to get as much information as possible before scheduling the first mediation session. “We are excited that the parties have agreed upon a mediator who we believe will provide fair and objective mediation. Haire stated that Mike Chaney, the commissioner, is optimistic that the parties will make great progress and find a solution by June. Blue Cross and UMMC did not respond to requests to comment at the time of publication. On April 21, Mike Chaney, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner, sent a letter to the UMMC/Blue Cross urging them to bring in an impartial mediator to preside over any new contract negotiations. Blue Cross and UMMC used mediation to resolve their 2018 contract dispute. It took approximately ten days for them to reach a settlement. Blue Cross reached an agreement with UMMC to end the clauses that made the contract permanent. This meant that the insurance company couldn’t change the terms of the contract at any point. UMMC claims that Blue Cross made annual adjustments to their reimbursement rates between 2014 and 2017. This decreased the total reimbursement UMMC received for care of Blue Cross patients. UMMC received an overall 1% rise in reimbursement rates as part of the 2018 negotiations. However, no changes to their reimbursement rates have been made since then. Chaney cannot mediate or assist in settling disputes between health care providers and insurance companies under state agency rules. Chaney’s involvement is due to concerns that UMMC’s inability to be part of Blue Cross’ network violates state network adequacy regulations. This is because UMMC provides services that are not available elsewhere in the state such as its organ transplant unit or children’s hospital. Blue Cross claims that it still meets its network adequacy requirements even without UMMC. According to Blue Cross, the solution to network adequacy problems is to offer network benefits to customers. It has already offered this by asking its members to sign a written directive of payment instructing the insurer that it pay the hospital. UMMC refused to accept payments from Blue Cross because it would allow Blue Cross continue to pay unsustainable rates. According to officials from both organizations, UMMC has not been in contact with Blue Cross since April 1, when UMMC went out of network. Tens of thousands Mississippians, some of whom are seriously ill or in need of advanced specialty treatments only at UMMC, are caught in the middle. Although the parties have had previous contract disputes, this is the first time that UMMC has been taken out of the Blue Cross network. Tens of thousands of Mississippians are now left with higher out-of pocket medical costs or to seek care elsewhere. Potential transplant recipients who spent years or months on the organ donation waitlists were placed on hold. Parents of children who need specialized care and can only be provided by UMMC’s children hospital have been given inconvenient and expensive options to continue their child’s treatment. UMMC has asked Blue Cross to increase their professional, inpatient and outpatient reimbursement rates by up to 50%. Blue Cross’s overall reimbursement would rise by 30% during the first year. According to Milliman’s 2021 whitepaper, Mississippi has the lowest inpatient reimbursement rate among commercial insurance companies. UMMC claims that BCBSMS pays them at a rate that is lower than the market for academic medical centers in the area. However, BCBSMS claims that allowing the increase would require significant premium increases for customers – despite a Mississippi Today investigation revealing that the insurer has a large reserve of money.