The Mississippi legislature could step in to attempt to resolve an impasse between the state's largest insurance company and a group of ten Mississippi hospitals. A joint legislative hearing about the dispute was sometimes heated and emotional.
A standing room only crowd of mostly doctors, lobbyist, and legislators packed the committee room yesterday for a hearing about the on-going contract dispute between Blue Cross Blue Shield and Hospital Management Associates which runs 10 hospitals in Mississippi.
The two companies are feuding over how much the insurance company should pay for procedures.
Paul Hurst with HMA claims Blue Cross is using its dominate market position to strong arm the hospitals into lower payments.
"What they are doing is trying ot make an example of Health Management Associates so that they can go to Rush Hospitals, so that they can go to Memorial, they can go to Signing River, they can go to Oxford. They can go wherever they want in this state and say 'look at HMA's tombstone over there. Do you want to end up like that?'," Hurst said.
Blue Cross dropped HMA from its network after HMA filed a lawsuit over the dispute, which Hurst says will lead to hospitals closing and terrible public health conditions.
Blue Cross's Charles Pace fired back, saying HMA is being dishonest and charging rates that are double what other hospitals charge.
"No one is denied access to care. Period. Emergencies are just like they have always been. Go to the hospital. Friday night football. Go to the hospital if your child is injured. Nothing has changed. We are interested in trying to reduce of the cost of health care. Manage those costs," Pace said.
Negotiations between the two companies are currently deadlocked which could led to the state legislature getting involved.
House insurance committee chairman Gary Chism of Columbus says the state has an interest because Blue Cross controls more then half the market.
"You know if this was a power company you would have to ask for permission to raise rates 30%. You might have to ask for permission to cut out 10 hospitals," Chism said.
Chism says one potential action could be to require insurers to pay in network rates to any hospital that agrees to provide care.
Its not clear if the two companies will work out their differences before law makers return to Jackson in January.