Bryant orders Blue Cross to take back 10 hospitals

October 23, 2013 11:12:22 AM



JACKSON -- Gov. Phil Bryant is ordering Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi to reinstate all 10 hospitals that it kicked out of its network. 


Bryant acted Tuesday, one day after the insurer said it was reinstating four of Health Management Associates' 10 Mississippi hospitals. 


The governor says the order lasts until the Department of Insurance finishes investigating whether Blue Cross' insurance network can adequately service patients without the hospitals. Bryant ordered the department to finish and hold a hearing within 60 days. 


Dwayne Blalock, the CEO of HMA's River Oaks Hospital in Flowood, thanked Bryant for his action. 


"Patients and doctors don't need an insurance company telling them where they have to go to the hospital," Blalock said. "All we have ever said to Blue Cross is this -- put us back in network and let's work behind the scenes with each other to resolve our dispute." 


Bryant ordered the hospitals to be paid under 2012 contract terms that HMA had objected to. HMA sued Blue Cross in state court for cutting payments without HMA's agreement. Blue Cross then kicked the hospitals out its network. The insurer says the Naples, Fla., company's prices and profit margins are too high. 


Bryant cited laws that are typically enforced by Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney without the governor's input. Those laws allow the Insurance Department to investigate to see if an insurer's network is adequate, hold a hearing if needed, fine an insurer, and order it to stop certain practices. 


Flowood-based Blue Cross, the state's largest private health insurer, has already sued Bryant in U.S. District Court in Jackson after he sent the company a letter Thursday saying he intended to issue the order. Blue Cross argues that Bryant's action is an unconstitutional overreach and that he can't force once company to contract with another. 


Bryant said he wasn't trying to determine the outcome of that dispute. "I express no opinions on the merit of that lawsuit, which will be settled by the parties themselves or decided by the courts," the executive order states. 


It wasn't immediately clear if Blue Cross would comply. 


"It is in federal court, which will decide the outcome," said Blue Cross spokeswoman Meredith Virden. 


Blue Cross is seeking an injunction to block Bryant's order, but no hearing date had been set as of Tuesday evening, according to online court records. Virden said the insurer has been assured by the court that a hearing will be set soon. 


The lawsuit took personal aim at Bryant, criticizing his concern for access when he turned down a federal plan to expand Medicaid coverage for residents without health care and questioning whether he could be objective when his daughter is employed by the Butler Snow law firm that includes HMA lobbyist Paul Hurst. 


The governor says he has authority to step in as the state's chief executive officer, citing a passage in the state Constitution that says "the governor shall see that the laws are faithfully executed." 


Bryant said he had already concluded that the exclusion of the 10 hospitals left Blue Cross with an insufficient network to serve patients. 


Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, is supporting Bryant's authority. 


"My hope is that we can bring all parties together, including the governor and insurance commissioner, to resolve this important issue once and for all," Hood said in a statement. "That said, the inflammatory comments made by Blue Cross in its legal filings about the governor are unprofessional at best." 


Chaney, a Republican, didn't say whether he thought Bryant has the authority he claims. 


"The issue of whether or not the governor has the authority to order Blue Cross to contract with the HMA hospitals will be answered in the matter pending in federal court," Chaney said in a statement. "In the meantime we will continue to do what we have been doing which is to make sure the interests of all parties, especially patients, are protected."