Legislative Hearing Planned On Anthem-Hartford HealthCare Contract Dispute

The General Assembly’s insurance committee will hold a hearing later this month on the ongoing contract dispute between Hartford HealthCare and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Executives from both companies have been invited to testify. Members of the public will also have an opportunity to comment at the Nov. 28 hearing.

“The inability of these companies to reach an agreement has had a significant impact on many Connecticut families for the last seven weeks,” said state Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford and co-chair of the committee. “I think the public deserves answers as to why this dispute is still ongoing and I look forward to helping them get those answers.”

Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents who have Anthem insurance have been facing higher, out-of-network rates at Hartford HealthCare facilities since their previous contracted ended on Sept. 30. Some patients are delaying treatment.

The extended impasse is a growing concern for legislators. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said this week he plans to reintroduce legislation creating a binding arbitration process to settle future disputes between insurers and hospitals when the General Assembly returns next year.

“We just thought it was appropriate to get these guys in to figure out” why they can’t resolve the dispute, said state Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford and another co-chair of the insurance committee. “We’re going to provide a forum for them to give our constituents their rationale.”

Larson said he and other legislators have been hearing from a lot of unhappy constituents affected by the dispute — “a lot of frustration, a lot of fear of losing their primary care doctor and having to go somewhere else.” He hopes scheduling the hearing “may provide the impetus to move things along.”

Representatives from Hartford HealthCare and Anthem will answer questions from legislators beginning at 10 a.m. in Room 2C of the Legislative Office Building. A public hearing on the dispute will follow at noon.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged Hartford HealthCare to accept Anthem’s offer, made earlier this week, to bring in a neutral mediator to help settle the dispute. Many state employees and retirees are Anthem customers.

“The offer of Anthem to get to a mediation process was pretty darn impressive and I think it’s bold and unthinking of the hospital system not to avail themselves of that service,” the governor told reporters Thursday.

Malloy suggested people who are unhappy with Hartford HealthCare “start using the services of a [hospital] system that is capable of reaching an agreement with a very reputable insurance company.”

At a press conference at the state Capitol complex, several health care advocacy groups said the dispute should serve as a warning of the danger of hospital consolidation.

Hartford HealthCare acquired both Windham Hospital and Backus Hospital in Norwich in the past decade. The current contract stalemate has effectively created a health care “dead zone” in much of the northeast of the state, said Ted Doolittle, the state’s health care advocate.

Doolittle noted that Hartford HealthCare was given final approval to acquire another hospital — Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington — this week, amid the ongoing dispute. The hospital has its own contract with Anthem so it won’t be affected, but advocates predicted contract standoffs would continue without legislative action.

“We will see it happen again, no doubt,” said Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. “Next year Anthem’s contract with Yale New Haven Health is up for renewal and the current dispute is a harbinger of things to come. The acquisition of multiple hospitals and physician practices by Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health leaves patients with nowhere to go in these disputes.”

Jim Wadleigh, CEO of Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange, told the agency’s board of directors Thursday that if the contract dispute was not resolved by December they would begin reaching out to customers who selected an Anthem plan during the ongoing open enrollment so they would understand the impact.

“I strongly believe it is our responsibility to help select a plan that provides the care and coverage that they need for their families,” he said.

Most of Access Health CT’s new customers have been selecting plans with the exchange’s other carrier, ConnectiCare, though Wadleigh said it was too soon to tell if it was a result of the dispute.

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