Anthem, Hartford HealthCare Agree To Contract, Ending 7-Week Impasse

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Hartford HealthCare and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced agreement early Saturday on a new contract, ending a seven-week impasse that left tens of thousands of patients in Connecticut with sharply higher health care costs and reduced access to treatment.

The start of the three-year agreement is retroactive to Oct. 1. Negotiations broke down at the end of the previous agreement Sept. 30.

“Anthem recognizes the disruption caused by the negotiations and the significant impact it had on HHC patients and Anthem members,” said Jill R. Hummel, president of the insurer.

“We deeply understand and regret the inconvenience and disruption that being out of network has caused our patients and communities,” said Jeffrey Flaks, Hartford HealthCare’s president and chief operating officer.

Shawn Mawhiney, a spokesman for Hartford HealthCare, said negotiators picked up the pace of the negotiations since the beginning of the week when the two sides exchanged offers.

“Things certainly accelerated yesterday and they worked early in the morning to get things done,” he said.

Sarah Yeager, a spokeswoman for Anthem, declined to comment beyond what the two sides announced in separate news releases.

Making the contract retroactive to Oct. 1 allows patients who received out-of-network care from Hartford HealthCare to pay what they would have if the network had been in-network without the disruption.

With no contract, Hartford HealthCare facilities were out of network for tens of thousands of patients who suddenly faced costly medical treatment and limited choices.

Hartford HealthCare includes Hartford Hospital, Backus Hospital in Norwich, Windham Hospital, MidState Medical Center in Meriden and the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and Southington.

Patients expressed fear, frustration and anger at the disruptions caused by the stalemate. Many were forced to cancel medical appointments or see in-network doctors with whom they were unfamiliar.

Mawhiney said negotiators felt pressure knowing that “patients were stuck in the middle” of the dispute.

Earlier in the week, Anthem was pushing Hartford HealthCare to agree to mediation to end the stalemate. The insurer asked the hospital group Monday to reach out jointly to JAMS, a nationally recognized dispute resolution organization.

Hartford Healthcare had not publicly responded to Anthem’s request.

The length of the dispute was unusual. Previous negotiations between Anthem and other health care systems were resolved close to, or shortly after, the end of a previous contract’s expiration.

The stalemate drew criticism from elected officials, employers and Connecticut’s largest state employee organization. Ultimately, elected officials were powerless to force the two private companies to reach agreement.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who heads the advisory Healthcare Cabinet, expressed frustration last month at the pace of negotiations. Both sides should “sit in a room together and work this out,” she said.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation urged the two sides to agree to a “prompt resolution” and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo called the protracted dispute an “outrageous failure.”

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents 45,000 state employees and 25,000 retirees, criticized Hartford HealthCare. It said earlier this month the hospital network was using members and their health coverage as “pawns” to gain advantage in the stalled talks.

Large employers also went public with their complaints. West Hartford Mayor Shari G. Cantor, West Hartford Town Manager Matthew Hart, Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown, and Bob Tessier, executive director of the CT Coalition of Taft-Hartley Health Funds wrote a letter to the two parties, demanding an end to the dispute “once and for all.”

The General Assembly’s insurance committee announced Thursday it would meet Nov. 28 to question Anthem and Hartford HealthCare.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney has promised to reintroduce legislation creating a binding arbitration process to settle contract disputes between insurers and hospitals that the parties cannot solve on their own.

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