University of Utah Health, Regence BlueCross Blue Shield contract negotiations stalled

The organizations have until June 30 to finalize a new deal.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) On Friday, October 16, 2020, the sun sets over the University of Utah Hospital. The University of Utah’s healthcare system is in contract negotiations with Regence BlueCross BlueShield, but the deal has stalled over healthcare costs.

Thousands of University of Utah Health patients insured with Regence BlueCross BlueShield will be forced to find a new provider or pay off-network costs for care if the two groups fighting over increased healthcare costs move forward End of the year can not reach an agreement the month.

Even if they do agree on a new deal, tens of thousands of Utahns remain concerned about the possibility of significant policy changes.

The organizations, which have worked together since the University of Utah Hospital’s founding in 1965, have been negotiating a new deal since last year that would keep the U.S. healthcare system on Regence’s network, according to an insurer’s blog post, according to the website.

“Unfortunately, Regence and the University of Utah Health were unable to agree on an increase in their care benefits that would not materially increase premiums,” the blog post reads. A Regence spokesman declined to answer further questions, directing The Salt Lake Tribune to the blog post.

U. Health said in a statement released Wednesday, “We are confident that Regence can deliver a solution that prioritizes the health and well-being of our patients, our teams and our community.”

The organizations have until June 30 to conclude a contract. If not, most patients using Regence either pay off-network costs to continue treatment with their US healthcare provider, or have to find someone else at another healthcare system.

Some patients, including those who are pregnant, have chronic medical conditions or have already scheduled non-elective surgery, may be able to continue their treatment at U. Health “for a limited time after their contract ends,” Regence said.

U. Health treats between 70,000 and 80,000 Regence-insured patients who are not University of Utah employees, spokeswoman Kathy Wilets said. They treat an additional 50,000 US employees, and Wilets said the US “has taken steps to care for these patients as if they were still ‘on the network’.”

Connie Millecam, 80, lives in Holladay and has had Regence coverage for about 15 years since she started Medicare. Millecam said she has a pacemaker and a heart murmur and recently her heartbeat has become increasingly irregular.

She’s been stressed since receiving a letter from Regence’s Medicare director David Dodge earlier this month announcing that U. Health may no longer be an on-network provider. So she called Regence for more information and said she had been told there were other providers who could provide the care she needed.

But Millecam trusts their U. Health doctor and believes the healthcare system is “world class.”

“I don’t want to go to St. Mark’s (hospital) and I don’t want to go to IHC,” Millecam said. “My doctor is at the University of Utah.”

According to Dodge’s May 22 letter, the insurance company is “obligated” to reach a compromise.

“Regence regularly partners with providers across our state through network agreements to provide our members with quality medical care at an affordable cost,” Dodge wrote. “We also strongly believe that doctors, nurses and other providers should be fairly compensated for the care they provide – and that members should not be included in the network’s standard negotiations.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “Regence and the University of Utah Health were unable to agree on a sustainable rate increase.”

Now Millecam wonders what to do with her pacemaker. She’s supposed to get a new one this fall.

Regence asked all members who have questions about continuing their care with U. Health to call the number on the back of their membership card.

Dodge’s letter listed additional providers in the Salt Lake City area who will remain on the network, including Foothill Family Clinic, Granger Medical Clinic, Holy Cross Health, Intermountain Health and the MountainStar Healthcare Physician Network.

In a post to patients on its website, U. Health said, “We understand this news is frustrating and potentially confusing. We regret the disruption this may cause to you and your family. We will work closely with you to ensure your healthcare is appropriately transitioned should the need arise.”

Justin Scaccy

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