Madison River Oaks in Canton is one of 10 hospitals embroiled in a battle between Health Management Associates, its parent company, and BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi.

The battle made its way to the legislature this week when both sides spoke to a packed room at a joint legislative hearing.

One possibility is for the legislature to enact "any willing provider" legislation that hospitals to enter networks where requirements are met. A similar law is in place in 24 other states and is similar to what the state did for pharmacies years back.

State Sen. Will Longwitz, who sits on the Insurance Committee, said it's still early.

"This issue just came before the Senate Insurance Committee this week," he said. "We are hearing from both sides and from (Insurance) Commissioner (Mike) Chaney. Through all this, we just need the best outcome for patients.

The dispute seems to center around a lawsuit filed by HMA against BCBS in June. HMA accused BCBS of withholding $16 million in payments. Soon after the filing, BCBS pulled 10 HMA hospitals from the insurance network.

"(BCBS) was underpaying based on the contract they signed," Kace Ragan, manager of marketing and communications for HMA's Southern Division, explained. "We sued them. Days later they kicked out all 10 hospitals."

Ragan said there's no evidence the hospitals were booted because of the lawsuit, but that it was a convenient time for that to happen.

"We were not in rate negotiations," she added.

"Our last contract with BlueCross BlueShield was three years ago."

Ragan, along with doctors and other HMA officials who testified before the legislature, say this action by BCBS will hurt individual policy holders the most.

"The situation is really not about Health Management or our hospitals," she said.

"It's really about BCBS telling physicians and policy holders where they can get their health care.

"There is a very large concern in some of our rural markets where those people will not have access to health care. The physicians that see patients in those areas will no longer be able to keep that practice."

Since being cutoff, HMA has "eaten" the higher costs and honored in-network rates for policy holders, but Ragan said that is not a long-term plan.

"Economics can tell you that can only be minted for so long," she said.

Emergency situations are not impacted by this dispute. But, specialized treatments are.

HMA operates the only burn center in the state and several doctors have specialize practices, including Dr. Chistina Glick who operates a neonatal clinic.

"She deals with the tiniest of premies," Ragan said. "Her clinic, which is hosted at one of those hospitals (and affiliated with Madison River Oaks) gives those babies all they therapy they need."

Ragan said the entire situation "is complicated," but BCBS' 81 percent market share makes them "a monopoly for all practical purposes."

BCBS maintains it only has a 60 percent market share, but that doesn't include government employees and teachers who have BCBS coverage.

Worst-case scenario for Madison River Oaks and the other nine HMA hospitals would mean less services or no services at all.

"If you don't have the money, you have to close it up," Ragan said. "Could be the hospital has to be scaled back as far as what services are provided."

And that's particularly problematic for the Canton facility.

"They have so many things going for them," Ragan added. "The potential keeps growing and I'd hate to see a turn in the other direction."

In 2011, the latest figures HMA had available, Madison River Oaks provided $13.5 million in uncompensated care and provided over $1 million in taxes.

A trial date for the lawsuit is unknown.