Hospital Dispute Lands In Federal Court

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(Batesville, MS) A payment dispute between Mississippi’s largest insurance carrier and ten of its hospitals left people like Amanda Ford without any affordable coverage for a time.

”I think they should settle it, and think of the people,” said Amanda Ford of Batesville.

The Hospitals, run by Naples, Florida-based Health Management Associates, claimed Blue Cross, Blue Shield, underpaid its bills.

Blue Cross claims the hospitals overcharged and threw them out of its network.

Late last week, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant ordered the two companies to work together, which landed them all in federal court.

”Blue Cross has taken the position the State of Mississippi and the Governor’s office cannot tell them who they will enter into contracts with and who they won’t,” said Batesville attorney Tom Womble.

It left North Mississippians from Clarksdale to Amory with no in-network coverage.

This past Monday, Blue Cross reinstated four, mostly North Mississippi hospitals, to its network, including Tri-Lakes in Batesville and North Mississippi Medical Center in Clarksdale.

That helped the immediate problem, and gave the four hospitals some breathing room.

”With Blue Cross, Blue Shield, not being in the network you, in effect, could close down these rural hospitals,” Womble explained.

But now dispute has ended up in federal court, not just between the companies, but between Blue Cross and the governor, and between Governor Bryant and his insurance commissioner, Mike Cheney.

”I think this issue will not be over and I don’t think it will end in the U.S. District Court,” said Wamble.

And Womble says that hurts a lot of people.

”The people that are getting hurt in this dispute right now are the people in the communities, rural communities… and… people such as myself."

He said he believes this is just the first of many such battles to come.

Late Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi granted a temporary restraining order requested by BlueCross blocking the Governor's executive order.

Judge Wingate said he “is not holding the executive order was legally flawed". He will hold a special hearing Nov. 5 at the federal courthouse in Jackson on the issue to allow the governor to present witnesses and evidence backing up his claim that dropping the hospitals harms health care access in the state.