Blue Cross Blue Shield, HMA settle dispute

Published 12:06 am Saturday, December 21, 2013

NATCHEZ — Mississippi’s largest health insurer and its second-largest hospital operator have settled their dispute.

Health Management Associates says all 10 of its Mississippi hospitals — including Natchez Community Hospital — will return to Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi network starting Jan. 1.

Blue Cross spokeswoman Meredith Virden confirms the agreement. Blue Cross pays more to service providers inside its network.

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Natchez Community CEO Eric Robinson said he was happy to hear the lawsuit has been settled.

“I was glad to hear HMA and Blue Cross came together and had some progressive discussions,” Robinson said. “I think they’ve agreed on the best path forward for all of our patients.”

HMA Hospitals have agreed to dismiss their lawsuit permanently against BCBS, and BCBS will not be required to pay any money to the HMA hospitals or to HMA as a result of the dismissal.

Blue Cross, under pressure from Gov. Phil Bryant and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, reinstated four of the HMA hospitals in October. Bryant tried forcing the insurer to reinstate the other six, but a federal judge blocked his executive order.

The insurer kicked the hospitals out after HMA sued Blue Cross, claiming Blue Cross violated contracts with Florida-based HMA by cutting payments. Blue Cross denied wrongdoing, saying HMA was trying to raise profits.

Robinson said Natchez Community kept treating Blue Cross patients throughout the dispute, but the settlement helps to alleviate any questions believed to be up in the air.

“I think this is going to remove some fears that still might be out there,” he said. “We’re going to start out 2014 on the right foot.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.