Talks fail, thousands of Piedmont patients face higher costs

Negotiations between Piedmont Healthcare and UnitedHealthcare failed, the contract between them lapsed early Friday and thousands of Georgians now face higher expenses if they continue to use Piedmont providers.

The three-year contract had provided insurance coverage for five of Piedmont’s six hospitals. For patients with UnitedHealthcare coverage, they are now “out of network.”

In a statement issued Friday, UnitedHealthcare accused Piedmont of demanding a 30 percent price increase over the next three years without committing to improvements in quality.

“That kind of increase is unfair to Georgia customers and has made it difficult to reach a compromise on a new agreement,” the insurance carrier’s statement said.

United made the accusation in the weeks leading up to the end of the contract. Piedmont officials have denied it.

In a statement from Piedmont, officials said the break-up means that “patients with a United commercial health plan may have to pay more out-of-pocket costs or travel further for healthcare services outside of Piedmont.”

Piedmont said that a separate arrangement had been reached by Coca-Cola Company that allows its employees to keep receiving care from Piedmont Clinic physicians and facilities.

About 150,000 people earlier were sent notice from Piedmont warning them that the contract might lapse. Those people have UnitedHealthcare insurance and have visited a Piedmont hospital or doctor within the past 18 months, according to a report in Georgia Health News.

These kinds of tussles are common and most are settled – some at the last minute, Georgia Health News reported, citing the failure in 2014 of Grady Health System to renew a contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

A new pact was signed between Grady and Blue Cross four months later.

“During such public battles, consumers get caught in the middle, fearful they won’t be able to go to their usual doctors and hospitals,” Georgia Health News said.

Piedmont’s flagship hospital in Buckhead, as well as Piedmont Fayette Hospital, Piedmont Henry Hospital, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital and Piedmont Newnan Hospital and Piedmont Newton.