Mediator to work on NMMC, BlueCross

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, saying access to health care is vital, announced Monday he will name a mediator to work on the dispute between health insurance provider BlueCross BlueShield and Tupelo-based North Mississippi Medical Center.

Last week the medical center, the largest hospital in the state, decided against renewing its contract with BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi.

The decision came after the two sides could not agree on the discount rate the insurance company's customers would receive on medical services provided by the hospital.

The current contract expires Nov. 30. Some 1,500 BlueCross customers will be affected if new contract terms are not reached by then.

The hospital was offering a discount rate of 15 percent; BlueCross BlueShield wanted one closer to 30 percent.

Unless a new contract can be reached, Northeast Mississippians who have health care coverage through BlueCross BlueShield will be responsible for getting reimbursed by the company and paying their own bills to the hospital instead of BlueCross BlueShield's paying the hospital directly.

But Musgrove said Monday he wants a settlement before the current contract ends “to keep health care costs down for everyday Mississippians.”

Both sides agree

The governor said Rick Hale, chief executive officer of BlueCross BlueShield, and Mickey Holliman of Tupelo, chairman of the NMMC board of directors, agreed to work with the mediator, whom Musgrove said he will select quickly. The mediator will be someone acceptable to both Hale and Holliman.

The contract dispute will affect employees of private companies that have their health insurance through BlueCross BlueShield.

It also will affect children covered through the state-federal Children's Health Insurance Program. The hospital said about 1,500 or 6 percent of its business comes from those covered through BlueCross BlueShield.

The contract dispute will not affect state and public education employees, who also are covered through AHS, which is owned by BlueCross BlueShield. That is a separate contract.

John Sewell, director of corporate communications for BlueCross BlueShield, said the company welcomed the appointment of a mediator.

“BlueCross and BlueShield of Mississippi remains committed to the best interests of our subscribers, and part of that commitment is found in our efforts to continue negotiations with North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo,” Sewell said.

The medical center did not offer a response.