Healthcare provider threatens to terminate agreement with United Healthcare

From Region 8 News at Six
Published: Oct. 12, 2023 at 9:58 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) — One of Northeast Arkansas’ largest healthcare providers is on the brink of cutting ties with the nation’s largest insurance company. The dispute between St. Bernards Healthcare and United Healthcare could have far-reaching consequences for regional patients.

In a recent announcement, St. Bernards Healthcare indicated that it is prepared to terminate its in-network agreement with United Healthcare if significant changes do not occur.

The current agreement is set to expire on April 30, 2024, and its termination would affect all United Healthcare insurance customers while impacting access to every St. Bernards facility.

St. Bernards Healthcare CEO Chris Barber expressed dissatisfaction with the current relationship, citing administrative burdens, barriers, and delayed payments as critical issues.

“We just don’t believe it is acceptable at this point in time,” Barber stated.

Negotiations are ongoing between hospital and insurer representatives to resolve the issues.

St. Bernards Healthcare’s primary requests are for patient bills to be paid promptly and for comprehensive care coverage, which, according to Barber, has not been adequately provided by United Healthcare.

Barber emphasized the hospital’s commitment to the community and expressed the hope for a reciprocal commitment from the insurer.

In response to the situation, United Healthcare released a statement through a spokesperson, stating, “St. Bernards recently issued a termination notice to end our commercial and Medicare Advantage contracts in Arkansas, which do not expire until May 1, 2024. UnitedHealthcare is committed to continued good-faith negotiation, and we urge St. Bernards to work with us over the next six months to reach an agreement that will ensure the people we serve have continued access to the health system’s hospitals and providers.”

United Healthcare also offered additional background information, emphasizing their commitment to negotiations with St. Bernards Healthcare and the importance of reaching an affordable agreement for families and employers in Arkansas.

The statement highlighted the responsibility of United Healthcare to provide access to quality healthcare while containing the rapidly rising costs. A spokesperson said that maintaining fair and competitive agreements with the hospitals and providers in their network is crucial for fulfilling this commitment to their members and customers.

As the clock ticks toward the contract’s expiration, patients face a pressing need to make decisions, particularly with open enrollment season underway.

St. Bernards Healthcare advises all United Healthcare policyholders to consult with insurance agents or brokers. Failing to act could result in these policyholders being forced to cover their medical expenses out of pocket if the relationship between the two entities deteriorates.

With six months remaining until the United Healthcare contract’s expiration, St. Bernards Healthcare and United Healthcare express their mutual desire to compromise.