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The terminator

Georgia Health News’ June 14 story reports on UnitedHealthcare saying “hasta la vista, baby,” to even more healthcare systems. This time, Georgia hospitals are getting booted out of its network.

United and two non-profit hospitals in Georgia’s Gwinnett County Northside Hospital system have parted ways. United accused Northside of “padding its bottom line at the expense of its patients,” while Northside took a more professional tone, stating, “While we have not reached an agreement on what’s best for Northside’s patients who have lost their healthcare coverage, we’re committed to fixing this situation. We hope that United will do the same.”

Georgia Health News (GHN) points out that negotiations like these, while occasionally becoming contentious, usually lead to some kind of an agreement before insurers terminate contracts. This year, however, we’re seeing a change in that trend—especially when United is on one side of the table. In January, United cut thousands of emergency room docs from their network as well as a critical New York City safety-net health system just when COVID-19 cases reached record highs.

In these negotiations, when common ground can’t be reached, insurers aren’t the ones who lose. We’ve yet to read a story about a health insurance company that went out of business due to failed contract talks. And as much as we support Northside, they’re not likely to lose their doors over this, either. But what are United’s Gwinnett County patients who get their care at Northside supposed to do now?

Meanwhile, more Northside hospitals in nearby Atlanta could be the next to get terminated. In a statement to GHN, United fired off a warning shot, saying, “Northside’s Atlanta, Cherokee, and Forsyth hospitals are the most expensive in Atlanta, and for cancer patients, they’re some of the most expensive places in the entire country.” GHN also notes that Northside Hospital Atlanta says it delivers more babies than any other community hospital in the country. That’s a whole lot of families that may need to scramble to revise their birthing plans. We’ll be watching to see what happens on August 1, when the Atlanta Northside contracts expire.

On a side note… we have some advice for any employers reading this: If you’re currently choosing a health plan for your employees, we recommend checking on how many times they’ve cut a provider from their network in the past year or two.

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