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Union Coalition Sides With Anthem In Contract Dispute

by | Nov 7, 2017 5:30am
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HARTFORD, CT — It’s not often Connecticut’s labor unions side with an insurance giant, but that’s what’s happening in the stalemate between Hartford Healthcare and Anthem Health Plans.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition wrote Joseph Elliott,  the president of Hartford Healthcare, Friday to let him know they don’t appreciate being used as “leverage” in the contract dispute with Anthem.

“We would not normally take sides in a battle between two large corporate entities, and might have resisted doing so, even though all of the publicly reported facts suggest that Hartford Healthcare’s position in this contract dispute has been unreasonable,” Dan Livingston, an attorney and chief negotiator for the coalition of 45,000 state employees and 25,000 retirees, wrote.

Hartford Healthcare maintained that it’s been negotiating in good faith with the insurance company.

“However, we are deeply concerned that we remain far apart at this date, and do not appear to be close to a resolution,” Shawn Mawhiney, a spokesman for Hartford Healthcare, said Friday.

The two sides have been negotiating for more than a year.

Since Oct. 1, Hartford Healthcare and its providers were not longer considered in-network for its customers.

Anthem says it asked for an extension so it could reimburse Hartford Healthcare at the current rates while negotiations continued, but the offer was rejected several times.

Hartford Healthcare said the request for an extension of the current contract was a “stall tactic,” during the open enrollment period where residents in all insurance marketplaces are able to shop for plans.

Enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans started in October and enrollment in the individual market and small group market on the exchange started on Nov. 1.

“We are particularly driven to write by the fact that Hartford Healthcare continues to refuse Anthem’s public offer to remove patients from the fear and stress that comes from the current conflict by paying Hartford Healthcare reimbursements under the current reimbursement rates with a commitment to retroactively compensate Hartford Healthcare for any increase in the rates that is agreed to in the next contract,” Livingston wrote.

If the offer had been accepted state employees could continue receiving treatment from their doctors.

“Instead, the fear and suffering of thousands of employees and their families has become Hartford Healthcare’s unearned currency in its power struggle with Anthem,” Livingston wrote. “Our members’ disappointment in such an attitude from an organization whose mission it is to care for people and their families cannot be overstated. Indeed, we doubt that many of Hartford Healthcare’s dedicated doctors and health care professionals support this cavalier approach to their patients.”

Livingston added that they would not have intervened in the dispute if the increases in the cost of services hadn’t been so dramatic over the past several years.

He said Hartford Healthcare has sought increases that have compounded to 65 percent in the last seven years and they are demanding an increase of over six percent in the upcoming agreement.

“And Hartford Healthcare’s use of ever increasing amounts of healthcare dollars in what appears at least to be driven more by an attempt to gain market share and power than an effort to improve medical services for patients and communities. These are the kinds of issues that make healthcare less and less affordable and available for working families and the communities in which they live,” Livingston wrote.

Anthem echoed those statements in a letter to its members updating them on the situation.

“At a time when Connecticut families are already struggling under the weight of years of rising health care costs, we believe that HHC’s demand for three more years of price hikes that are 2-3 times the rate of inflation are excessive,” Jill Hummel, president and general manager of Anthem BlueCross BlueShield Connecticut wrote in a letter to members.

The delay in reaching a deal is not only inconvenient for tens of thousands of state employees, who have been unable to see their doctors, it could cost the state money because many will likely postpone preventative care if they have to pay the full cost of the service.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, West Hartford officials, and the chairmen of Connecticut’s two federally-recognized tribes wrote both Elliot and Hummel Tuesday and asked them to settle their dispute quickly.

“As the impasse drags into its fifth week, our employees, members and their families are expressing heightened frustration with both Hartford Healthcare and Anthem,” they wrote. “Their frustration and desire for in-network care is driving many to consider other health care options.”

They also emphasized that the longer this plays out “the likelihood increases that this impasse will affect employees’ and members’ future decisions about which health carrier they select during open enrollment.”

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