BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi Regional Medical Center joined Mississippi hospitals asking people to stand with them in a dispute with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi. The rallies were in response to Blue Cross terminating its contract with Health Management Associates' 10 hospitals, which includes Biloxi Regional. Hospital officials said this stalemate is putting jobs at risk.
Emergency room physician Dr. George Loukatos said in his job, every second counts. He worries about how people in immediate need of medical care are bypassing their closest ER. Dr. Loukatos said there is insurance confusion created by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"When you have a true emergency minutes could mean your life. It's critical," said Dr. Loukatos. "It really is criminal that this is happening. It's horrible that patients have to even wonder if their insurance company is going to pay if they have an emergency."
Wearing "Standing Together" t-shirts, employee at Biloxi Regional Medical Center campaigned for signatures on mail in and online petitions to let the insurance company know people are not happy with the situation.
Biloxi Regional Medical Center CEO Monte Bostwick said, "I think Blue Cross has tried to create a lot of confusion. What we've been telling the community all along is we will continue to take care of you. We will continue to work with you so you have no additional out of pocket expenses because we're out of network."
Officials said Blue Cross Blue Shield cares more about its bottom line than its customers.
"This is an entity that has over a half a billion dollars in reserves," said Bostwick. "Of all the Blue Crosses across the country, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi has more reserves than anybody else. So it really is about their profit versus our patients and we think that's wrong. We want the community to stand up and help us do something about it."
Hospital officials are asking the public to stand with Biloxi Regional and its 900 employees.
Bostwick said, "Then secondary to that is the economic impact that this can have not just on the hospital but on the Coast. Relative to the number of people we employ, the vendors that we buy from, the physician offices that are out there that are struggling trying to figure out what to do. It's created a lot of confusion, and it's very unfortunate."
Biloxi Regional officials said although they've reached out to Blue Cross Blue Shield to work out their differences the company hasn't responded.
"Our hope is that Blue Cross Blue Shield will come back to the table with us and say let's work out our differences. We've routinely reached out to them,"said Bostwick. "We've continued to reach out to them and say come back to the table and work with us and they have yet to reengage us in that discussion."
Blue Cross Blue Shield issued a statement in response to the rallies.
"In recent weeks, the public has been largely misinformed on the situation between Blue Cross and HMA. The issue is not about access, as HMA would like you to believe. The issue is about the cost of healthcare," said Meredith Virden Manager of Corporate Communications for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi.
"The rally today was part of HMA's continuing efforts to distract the public from the real issue. The facts are that HMA area hospitals charge their patients significantly more than other area Network Hospitals charge their patients – in some cases more than double the charges. HMA sued Blue Cross because it wants to be paid more, not because it wants to charge its patients less. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi's commitment has always been, and will continue to be, to work on our members' behalf to manage the cost of their healthcare services. This includes working with our Network Providers across the state to ensure access to quality healthcare services and the best Network Provider price for those services."
Blue Cross Blue Shield defended its commitment to the Magnolia state.
Virden said, "We are a Mississippi company dedicated to the health of Mississippians. No Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi member is going without access to healthcare services because Blue Cross Blue Shield is taking care of its members. For Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi members, emergency services continue to be covered at network level benefits at any hospital. For covered elective services (services that can be scheduled), the member has the choice of a network or non-network Hospital. If the member chooses the non-network Hospital, benefits are provided for covered services at the non-network level based on their benefit plan."
The insurance company also denied it has refused to negotiate.
"HMA's allegations that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi has refused to try and resolve this contract issue is false,' Virden said. "Blue Cross has advised HMA numerous times that it is willing to re-contract with some HMA hospitals if HMA would permanently dismiss its baseless lawsuit. HMA has refused. The future of HMA hospitals in Mississippi and their employees will be determined by HMA in Naples, Florida, or whoever purchases HMA in the future, not by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi."