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HCA, United sign new pact

By KRIS HUNDLEY
Published November 3, 2006


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The contentious, nine-week contract battle between United Healthcare and HCA Inc. has come to an end.
Effective immediately, HCA hospitals will be back in the United network in all markets nationwide, including the Tampa Bay area.

In late August, the nation’s largest hospital chain and biggest insurer were unable to come to terms on reimbursement rates in the Tampa Bay area, as well as in South Florida and Denver. That meant HCA’s nine local hospitals were off-limits for United’s nearly 500,000 members in the Tampa Bay area.

That dispute has now been resolved with the signing of a new national, five-year contract between the two parties. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We’re very pleased United patients can continue to access our facilities,’’ said Ginger Mace, spokeswoman for HCA’s West Florida division. “At the end of the day, that’s a good thing for our community.’’

Mace said HCA had received over 15,000 calls or letters from United patients in the past two months, 98 percent of which wanted continued access to the hospitals. She estimated that about 51,000 United patients had used local HCA facilities last year.United, which for two months maintained that HCA’s rate demands would cause premiums to skyrocket, was mum on the possible impact on Friday.

“While the past few months have been challenging for many of our members, we are pleased that this new contract will offer not only long-term stability for customers, but also reinforce our commitment to quality for our members,” said David Wichmann, president and chief operating officer of United, based in Minneapolis.

The contract stalemate was beginning to take its toll on both companies. In the first month after the loss of the United contract, HCA’s nine hospitals in the Tampa Bay area saw total admissions drop by 3 to 4 percent and outpatient procedures declined nearly double that amount.

United, meanwhile, lost at least two major commercial customers: MarineMax of Clearwater and Times Publishing Co., publisher of the St. Petersburg Times.

The insurer also faced the possibility that seniors would leave its popular Medicare HMO once enrollment begins Nov. 15 for next year’s plans. John Karpiscak, a United HMO member in Hernando County, was angry at losing access to HCA’s Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point, where he has had cardiac procedures in the past.

“We’re scheduled to go Monday to hear a presentation by another Medicare plan,’’ he said Friday. “But now we might consider staying with United. They’ve been very good with us overall.’’

Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 23:16:28]


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