Blue Cross Blue Shield and its parent company Anthem remain the only insurer in many areas of the country in the Obamacare marketplace. Getty Images The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Patients warned as Blue Cross-Piedmont Hospital talks near deadline

A letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia has alarmed some patients of Piedmont Hospital, telling them the facility may leave the insurance company’s network.

Blue Cross and Piedmont are negotiating over their next contract, and as occasionally happens, the negotiations are going down to the wire. The letter is a standard notice sent when negotiations between a provider and insurance company for contract renewal get close to the contract date, said Glenn Allen, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Insurance.

“I’ve seen them go down to the wire like this probably seven times in the last 20 years,” Allen said of the two companies.

This year’s negotiations contain an extra element of tension: As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported exclusively earlier this year and last summer, Piedmont Hospital has sued Blue Cross over what it says is the insurance company’s new practice of denying coverage for some in-hospital MRIs and CAT scans, and for emergency room visits the company claims were unwarranted.

“Vehicle,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres /

Blue Cross’ parent company, Anthem, told patients its contract with Piedmont Hospital is set to expire April 1. On that day the hospital will become out of network to Blue Cross patients and they would have to pay out-of-network fees, which can be much higher.

Hospitals see such letters as a negotiating tactic.

“It would be naive to suggest that Blue Cross is not attempting to influence public opinion,” said Ethan James, the vice president for external affairs at the Georgia Hospital Association.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t hitting home. Gov. Nathan Deal has weighed in, noting that some 577,000 state employees and state university employees and family members are covered under the plans. He responded with his own letter to the two companies’ CEOs telling them to work it out.

“An out of network situation would create an enormous network disruption, especially in the Atlanta and Athens areas, and we will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that our employees can maintain their healthcare providers of choice,” Deal wrote. “While I don’t presume to get in to the specifics of contract negotiations, I do expect these negotiations to be conducted in good faith and around the clock to ensure that there is no disruption” for the patients covered.

Colin Manning, a spokesman for Anthem, wrote in an emailed statement that consumers are the company’s first priority. “We are continuing to negotiate and to reach an agreement that would enable Piedmont to remain part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia’s care provider network, limit any disruption to our consumers, and ensure that we are compensating doctors and hospitals fairly,” the statement said.

Insurance companies try to negotiate for lower reimbursements for services to health care providers; and the providers, such as hospitals and doctors, negotiate for higher ones.

To end the relationship would be a problem for either company. Blue Cross needs the customers who sign up for their plans with the intent of being able to go to Piedmont. And Piedmont needs the patients that come there with Blue Cross insurance plans knowing they’ll have the lower, in-network co-pays.

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