KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Rural Hospitals In Minnesota Contribute To Insurance Premiums For Poor Patients

News outlets report on rural hospitals in Minnesota, a new insurer contract for a Florida hospital and possible restrictions on a pending for-profit hospital system in Massachusetts.

Minnesota Public Radio: Rural hospitals are finding a new way to approach health care for the poor in the midst of reimbursement cuts to the state's insurance program for low-income adults. "Even rural hospitals that chose not to enroll in the scaled back GAMC program will lose millions of dollars this year providing charity care for the state's poorest adults. That's because those hospitals are no longer reimbursed." But Tri-County Hospital in Wadena "started paying insurance premiums so that about 100 GAMC patients could shift over to the more comprehensive MinnesotaCare insurance program. Tri-County Hospital CEO Joel Beiswenger says the premiums cost the hospital about $10 a month per GAMC patient. But he says the move will cut the hospital's annual losses in half. 'For us, it was a very easy cost-benefit decision,' he said. 'We'll pay $1,000 a month to maintain several thousand dollars a month in potential reimbursements, on the folks that we were going to care for anyway.' At least half a dozen other rural counties and hospitals in Minnesota are doing the same thing" (Robertson, 9/15).

Orlando Sentinel: "After 10 months and two extensions, Florida Hospital and United Healthcare agreed to a four-year contract that allows the insurer's 400,000 Central Florida customers to continue using the hospital system's facilities and doctors at in-network prices without any interruption of care. … [I]n recent days, United officials told local employers that, after agreeing on pricing, the two sides were tangling over 'quality issues.' Insurers have been pressing 'quality issues' in recent years, said Becky Cherney, president of the Florida Health Care Coalition. At a time when health-care costs are skyrocketing, insurers are balking at paying for such things as hospital readmissions when patients develop some preventable infections or pneumonia while in the hospital. Although the drawn-out contract talks irked many patients and insurance customers, these sorts of contentious negotiations may become the norm in the near future. As hospitals consolidate into large hospital systems - from Kaiser Permanente in California to Carolinas Healthcare System on the East Coast - their dominance will give them more power in contract negotiations" (Shrieves, 9/15).

The Boston Globe: "A coalition of community hospitals that compete with Caritas Christi Health Care across eastern Massachusetts is appealing to the state attorney general's office to impose strict rules on the proposed sale of the nonprofit chain to a New York private equity firm. Among the conditions being sought by the Healthcare Access Coalition are measures to prohibit the buyer, Cerberus Capital Management, from using 'improper' incentives to recruit doctors from rival hospitals, a three-year ban on price increases for hospital services, and restrictions on 'limited network' insurance contracts that exclude other providers. The community hospitals also want Cerberus to commit to not selling Caritas for seven years instead of three." The coalition "said the restrictions are needed to keep them viable and ensure that low-income patients have access to health care services at reasonable prices" (Weisman, 9/16).

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