Deadline looms in Piedmont-Blue Cross contract talks
Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
March 31--Thousands of University of Georgia employees went into the weekend facing the prospect that by Monday, they might have to pay higher out-of-network fees if they sought care at Athens' largest hospital or by doctors employed by it.
The UGA employees are among hundreds of thousands of workers in the University System of Georgia, the state of Georgia, the Athens-Clarke County government and school systems such as the Clarke County School District anxiously eyeing bitter contract negotiations between Piedmont Healthcare, parent company of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, which administers the state's health insurance system. Piedmont operates medical centers in Athens, Atlanta and several other Georgia cities.
Some workers had already received new cards from Blue Cross Blue Shield assigning them to new primary care physicians, doctors who would still be in the Blue Cross Blue Shield network if negotiations do ultimately fail.
Meanwhile, a Blue Cross Blue Shield vice president wrote a pessimistic letter Friday to Georgia lawmakers.
"Our managed care team has been working literally around-the-clock to try to reach an agreement, but unfortunately, we now believe BCBSGa plans to take Piedmont out of its network," wrote Thomas Worthy, Piedmont vice president for government and external affairs.
State Rep. Deborah Gonzalez, D-Athens, posted the letter on her campaign Facebook page, and it was subsequently distributed on a UGA staff listserv.
The failed negotiations have angered many, including state Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens).
"For a company like BCBS to play chicken with our health and the health of our children is unconscionable," said Frye. "These actions give us insight to their true allegiances -- investors and profiteering -- not their hard-working UGA customers."
"There are a lot of people here who are very upset about this," said Michael Lewis, chair of the UGA Staff Council. "One reason is that they have no control over it."
"It's just plain and simple one big company trying to maximize profits, and another trying to minimize expenses and maximize profits," Lewis said. "It's got precious little to do with the delivery of health care."
Lewis had a kinder take on Blue Cross assigning physicians, though. In-network primary care physicians are required to accept patients who are assigned to them, so if worse comes to worse, policyholders won't be left without a doctor.
Lewis hadn't given up hope for a new contract by the deadline. UGA President Jere Morehead, University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley and Gov. Nathan Deal are doing all they can, he said.
Deal has promised the state would take "whatever steps necessary" to ensure continuity of care for state and university system employees.
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