Governor drops BlueCross order

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant has rescinded the portion of his controversial executive order forcing BlueCross & BlueShield to reinstate 10 private hospitals across the state to its health insurance network.

Blue_Cross_Blue_Shield_LogoBryant announced Thursday afternoon his executive order still instructs Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to investigate the dispute between Florida-based Health Management Associates and Mississippi-based BlueCross.

With the modification of the executive order, BlueCross announced it has dropped its federal lawsuit against the governor contesting his authority to get involved in the dispute. Chaney also questioned the governor’s authority, though his department already was conducting the investigation similar to what Bryant requested.

Earlier this week U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi issued a temporary restraining order blocking the governor’s actions. Wingate had scheduled a hearing on the issue for next week.

The dispute arose when BlueCross dropped 10 HMA hospitals from its network in September in the midst of a disagreement over how much the hospitals should be reimbursed by the state’s biggest provider of health insurance.

Before the governor issued the executive order last week, BlueCross already had restored four of the 10 HMA hospitals to its network, including Gilmore Memorial Regional Medical Center in Amory. In a news release, Bryant stressed that he still believes he would have prevailed in court if the hearing had continued.

“I appreciate BlueCross’ willingness to re-engage in discussions with the hospitals to see whether there is room for a compromise that will benefit all involved, including most importantly the patients that BlueCross insures and these hospitals serve,” the governor said.

Bryant added, “If there is no private or administrative solution to this matter, I expect legislative action during the 2014 session.”

Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood had argued on behalf of the Republican Bryant that as the state’s chief executive officer, the governor had the authority to enter the dispute. Hood and Bryant argued that by dropping the 10 hospitals BlueCross’ network does not provide adequate health care access as required by state law for its policyholders.

“We have believed from the onset that the issue between BlueCross & BlueShield of Mississippi and HMA was a business matter between two private companies,” Blue Cross said in a statement after the governor modified the order.

Allen Tyra, chief executive officer of Gilmore Memorial in Amory, said he appreciated the efforts of Bryant, Hood, Chaney and legislators to try to resolve the issue.

“We remain committed to getting our sister hospitals back in the BlueCross network,” Tyra said.

By being out of network, BlueCross policyholders who go to HMA hospitals face higher out-of-pocket expenses, though the hospitals have said they are not passing those costs on to patients.

“As I have stated many times to HMA and BlueCross since the dispute began, I encourage the parties to come together and find common ground to ensure policyholders have access to affordable care,” Chaney said. “To that end, I am happy that this office was able to help facilitate four HMA hospitals once again being paid as network hospitals and give BlueCross BlueShield patients access to care.”

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com