Health care fight delivered to mailbox

Published 12:05 am Sunday, October 20, 2013

A week or so ago, a trip to the mailbox gave me a sense of déjà vu.

Ninety-nine percent of what we receive in the mail each week is best described as unsolicited junk.

But occasionally, between the magazine subscription offers, the credit card applications and the keys that a car dealer assures me opens a treasure chest at a local dealership, a real jewel is found.

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Thus was the case recently with a single flier that suddenly transported me back nearly two years ago.

It was as if the battle for the Natchez mayor’s office was heating up again. Many of you may recall the ridiculously negative campaign propaganda mailed out in opposition to the eventual mayoral winner, Butch Brown.

Similar mailings helped to oust longtime local senator Bob M. Dearing.

Most of the mail-outs were so awful, so poorly produced and in such poor taste that they were laughable, particularly to anyone who knew the two men in question.

This month’s mail brought forth similar feelings, but with a decidedly health care flavor to it. “Your access to quality healthcare just got tougher … it may surprise you who’s responsible,” the front of the piece reads.

Inside, the overly dramatic lobbying continues with images featuring a young mother hugging two small children, an older couple obviously in distress and a sad-looking pregnant woman clutching her enlarged belly.

In large letters: Mississippians deserve access to quality care. Then the piece mentions that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi “abruptly ended their relationship with ten of Mississippi’s best hospitals.”

“The recent move was made to increase company profits.”

Hmm. Perhaps Blue Cross Blue Shield was abrupt in its move, but it clearly had a reason for reacting as it did.

You see the owner of the 10 hospitals in question, which includes Natchez Community Hospital, Healthcare Management Associates headquartered in Naples, Fla., had sort of angered the large insurer.

HMA sued BCBS in June, claiming the insurance provider had shortchanged the hospitals by more than $13 million. It’s a bit of a contract dispute, as each side believes the other is misinterpreting the agreement the two have.

Less than two weeks later the insurance provider put the hospitals on notice that in-network coverage would be dropped, meaning patients would be forced to pay higher rates for services. So, not unlike some of the 2012 election-year fliers, the piece isn’t 100 percent false when it says BCBS’s decision to drop the hospitals was made to “increase company profits,” but it’s not entirely true either.

Clearly, both entities are businesses and both have a right to make whatever profits they can make. But they also have the right to do business — or not do business — with whichever other entities they choose.

Trying to lobby and cajole Mississippians to contact the CEO of BCBS to “tell them to treat you fairly or you’ll find another insurance company” is a bit over the top.

It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite images of the election season — a clearly fabricated image of Bob Dearing playing poker with President Obama.

All of this might be amusing on the way back from the mailbox, but it’s not getting the matter resolved. HMA and BCBS leaders need to either work this out among themselves or decide not to do business with one another. Either way, the battle doesn’t need to happen in my mailbox.

 Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or