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HMA and Blue Cross Dispute Continues
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The dispute between Mississippi's largest health insurance carrier and the company that owns ten hospitals in the state is hitting a new level. Hospitals say they will not make patients pay higher rates now that they are no longer in the carrier's network.

Starting this week, insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield has officially taken the ten Mississippi hospitals owned by Hospital Management Associates off its network of providers because of an ongoing contract dispute.

Typically, that means patients who are insured by blue cross would have to pay higher out of pocket costs.

However, Sherry Pitts, who is the CEO of HMA owned Woman's hospital in Jackson, says the company has decided to pay the extra costs rather than pass it on to consumers.

"We will be taking on additional costs and we are committed to not penalizing the patients that choose to have their services here. Hopefully at some point we can come to a resolution with Blue Cross if they would entertain conversation with us," Pitts said.

Its not clear how much extra the decision will cost the hospital but it could be substantial since Blue Cross provides health insurance for for more than half the private insurance market.

The two companies are at an impasse over how much Blue Cross should pay for medical procedures, with the hospital claiming rates are too low.

Blue Cross is declining to comment on an on going legal dispute but has previously said that HMA is driving up costs because it is a for-profit company.

Dwayne Blaylock, who runs another HMA hospital, River Oaks, thinks the insurance company is playing hardball at the expense of consumers.

"The options for their care are very confusing. Patients have called with questions about continuity of care.  Blue Cross is forcing their subscribers to have to choose new doctors by doing this," Blaylock said.

Blaylock says he intends to cover the high cost for the foreseeable future.

It is not clear how long that could before the two companies resolve their differences.