Jonesboro City Employees Pay More To Use One of Two Community Hospitals

December 14, 2004 -- Posted at: 7:00pm CST

JONESBORO, AR - Jonesboro city employees can continue to receive care at NEA Medical Center, but it will cost them more there than it will to get the same medical attention at St. Bernards Medical Center. They currently pay 20% of the bill when they receive care at a facility that is in their network, and 40% for out of network. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield picks up the remaining cost.

"The medical center being a large tax supported entity, or actually paying taxes, we felt that the NEA Medical Center should be given the opportunity to be in-network, especially for an organization such as the city, that is driven off of taxpayer dollars," Mark Carpenter, Director of Business Development for NEA Medical Center.

In a letter dated December 3, 2004, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield officials told Mayor Hubert Brodell that it will not be able to comply with the city council's unanimously voted request to add NEA Medical Center as an in-network provider. He stated that 2005 coverage was based on the current network and competitive pricing.

Max Heuer, a spokesperson for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, explained, "The city as well as other employers, they get to make a choice every single year as to what products they want to offer their employees. They chose to offer our product knowing the composition of our networks."

Carpenter said NEA Medical Center is willing to accept the same reimbursement that is paid to St. Bernards Medical Center; assuring that there would be no additional cost by the city for the new coverage. He is also frustrated, because a few Arkansas cities of similar size, such as Fort Smith, have both of their hospitals as in-network providers.

"Two years ago, we working with Blue Cross introduced a program that offered both St. Edward Mercy Medical Center and Sparks Regional Medical Center, so I know first hand that it can be done," said Carpenter.

"Every community is different," Heuer added. "Every market is different, and it's just a matter of how we think we can best hold done costs for our members," she said.

Regardless of what happens with NEA Medical Center, city employees will be able to receive care at area NEA Clinic facilities. Those visits are considered in-network.

There is a case in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that could open networks to all providers. A decision is expected by February 2005. In the meantime, NEA Medical Center officials hope Jonesboro City officials will consider adding a new insurance provider as an option for employees who want NEA Medical Center to be their in-network hospital. NEA Medical Center leaders will now work to get in-network coverage for Craighead County workers at that hospital.