Anthem Inc. is the parent company of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, whose contract negotiations with Piedmont Healthcare failed by the Saturday night deadline. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

State will help cover workers’ extra costs in Piedmont-Blue Cross spat

Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday that for at least 30 days the state would absorb the additional costs its employees with Blue Cross insurance experience from being out of network with Piedmont Healthcare providers. The move affects 600,000 people, including current state employees, retirees and their families who are eligible to use Blue Cross at a Piedmont provider.

Piedmont has said about 500,000 Blue Cross patients statewide have seen a Piedmont provider within the past year and a half.

The negotiations between the huge health insurance and care companies remained at an impasse as of Tuesday evening. Their contract for Piedmont to be in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia network ended midnight Saturday. As long as there is no renewal agreement, Blue Cross patients have no negotiated price cap when they go to Piedmont hospitals or doctors, and Blue Cross assigns higher costs such as co-pays for them.

The University System of Georgia, whose employees also have Blue Cross as a major option, also stood ready to absorb a month’s worth of costs from the impasse.

A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond when asked whether there was an estimate of the likely cost to the state.

“Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Piedmont Healthcare must return to the negotiating table, and Blue Cross Blue Shield must honor the contractual obligations made to the state,” Deal said in a statement. “If an equitable solution is not reached, I’ve directed the Department of Community Health and the State Health Benefit Plan to explore all possible solutions to ensure our members have access to care.”

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley echoed the governor’s comments.

Deal’s statement said he had “directed” the two companies to return to the negotiating table.

A spokesman for Piedmont, Matt Gove, said the health care provider had heard “no substantive feedback” from Blue Cross and its parent company, Anthem Inc., since the negotiations collapsed Saturday night. He said the companies had made substantial progress over 72 hours when Blue Cross suddenly returned to an unacceptable 5-day-old offer that brought negotiations to a halt. “We agree that the patients are the priority,” Gove said.

A spokesman for Anthem and Blue Cross, Colin Manning, said in a statement that the company understood the concerns raised by the governor, was actively negotiating in good faith and was confident common ground could be found.  

“Protecting consumers’ access to affordable health care continues to be our top priority during these negotiations,” the statement said. “We do believe hospitals and doctors should be compensated fairly, but not at the expense of Georgia’s families, businesses and taxpayers.”

The two companies each have a website for patients, bcbsga.com/piedmont and keeppiedmont.org.

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