By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A federal judge has blocked Gov. Phil Bryant’s efforts to force BlueCross & BlueShield to re-instate 10 Health Management Associates hospitals to its health care network.
Late Monday, U.S. District Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi granted a temporary restraining order requested by BlueCross blocking an executive order issued last week by the governor.
In a hearing Friday, both attorneys for BlueCross and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney argued the governor does not have the authority to get involved in the legal dispute between BlueCross, the state’s largest provider of individual health insurance policies, and HMA, a Florida-based company.
In Monday’s ruling, Wingate said he “is not holding the executive order was legally flawed,” but scheduled a hearing for Nov. 5 at the federal courthouse in Jackson on the issue. At that time, the governor will have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence backing up his claim that dropping the hospitals harms health care access in the state.
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.
BlueCross already has restored four HMA hospitals to its network, including Gilmore Memorial in Amory.
Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood has argued on behalf of the Republican Bryant that as the state’s chief executive officer the governor has the authority to enter the dispute. Hood and Bryant argued that by dropping the 10 hospitals BlueCross’s network does not provide adequate health care access as required by state law for its policyholders.
Of Wingate’s ruling, Mick Bullock, a spokesman for the governor, said “This is certainly part of the legal process. The governor will evaluate the court’s ruling and will continue to work with Attorney General Jim Hood to resolve this matter.”
Hood has been critical of BlueCross, saying the company has resisted efforts by him and other state officials to try to resolve the dispute.
If Wingate had not acted, Bryant’s order requiring BlueCross to resume paying HMA at the rates in effect when the contract was canceled would have gone into effect today.
Blue Cross has argued that under the contract it has with HMA either side has the right to terminate. BlueCross officials also have said that it was reimbursing HMA at the same rate that it does other providers in its network. HMA has argued that BlueCross’ reimbursement rates are too low.