Mississippi's patients, employees, and physicians are being severely injured by the impasse between Blue Cross of Mississippi and HMA (Health Management Associates) and something radical must be done to bring these two entities to the table for negotiations.

After months of futile negotiations HMA sued Blue Cross in June 2013.  HMA claims in its civil action (Jackson HMA, et. al. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, et. al. #25113-556CIV) against Blue Cross that they have been underpaid for services in their Mississippi hospitals by close to $16 million. Blue Cross's natural legal response was to cancel (without cause) the HMA hospitals' contracts after August 31, 2013.

The result is that NO commercial Blue Cross patients in Mississippi will have access to medical services at HMA hospitals at Blue Cross provider rates, thereby increasing out-of-pocket hospitalization costs to patients using services at HMA hospitals. In the Jackson area alone, this will profoundly impact the economic viability of five HMA hospitals-River Oaks Hospital, Woman's Hospital, Crossgates River Oaks Hospital, Madison River Oaks Medical Center, and Central Mississippi Medical Center.  Moreover, the consequent loss of hospital competition in the Jackson area will incontrovertibly prove to be harmful and unfavorable for both patients and physicians.

In addition, this impasse will undoubtedly lead to downsizing or even closure of five other HMA hospitals in Mississippi (Clarksdale, Batesville, Amory, Natchez, and Biloxi), many of them rural, sole-provider hospitals, thereby restricting local access to health care for countless uninsured Mississippians, as well as lead to layoffs, unemployment and underemployment of HMA employees, and loss of tax revenues for surrounding areas.

In conversations and email exchanges with the Mississippi Insurance Commissioner and his surrogates, we're led to believe that the Insurance Commissioner, Mike Chaney, feels powerless to enable any type of solution. Other reliable sources claim that Blue Cross refuses to meet with anyone from the governor's office to discuss this important matter.

We are gravely concerned that insurance deregulation which occurred a decade ago in Mississippi has led to the unfettered growth of Blue Cross.  This growth has allowed the company to become so large and powerful that its market share dwarfs other commercial insurance companies, leading to hard-handed and monopolistic behavior.   The result is the loss of a vibrant, competitive health insurance market in Mississippi.

We can knowledgeably state, without exception, that the failure of HMA and Blue Cross to reach an agreement will severely, disastrously, and permanently impact patients' access to the hospitals and physicians of their choice, will decimate physicians' practices, and lay waste to the tax bases surrounding HMA hospitals. Blue Cross' affected patients will find that non-HMA hospitals will, in fact, not be able to accommodate the overwhelming influx of new Blue Cross patients. Instead, the resulting crowded surgery schedules, congested emergency rooms, and saturated hospital wards will only serve to delay their access to care. 

We take no side in this issue other than that of patients and physicians who are being injured by this impasse.

We urge you to contact Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi (601-664-4475), Health Management Associates (John Starcher, Jr. CEO, 239-598-313), the Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney (601-359-2012, mike.chaney@mid.ms.gov) and Governor Bryant (601-359-3150) to tell them they must find a timely solution to this problem or Mississippians will suffer.

 This commentary was signed by:

Heddy-Dale Matthias, MD

Tad Barham, MD

Mary Linda Moss, MD

Walter Shelton, MD

Joel Payne, Jr., MD

Karen Cole, MD

Darden North, MD

C. Shannon Carroll Sr., DO

Emily Johnson, MD

John W. Cook, MD

Edra Kimmel, MD

Mercer Lee, MD

Pat Scanlon, MD

Chris Wiggs, MD

Lisa Gibson-McKee, MD

Jeptha Cole, MD

Dotie Jackson, MD

Roy Kellum, MD

Jill Woodliff, MD

Suzanne Sullivan, MD

Alan Stallings

Gayle Watters, DMD

Cris Glick, MD

David Wender, MD

Jasmine Sandhu, MD

Naveen Sandhu, MD

Justin Daniels, MD

Gregory H. Boling, MD

Danny O'Keefe, DMD

Ron Cannon, MD

Nathan McIntosh, MD

Chele Veach, MD

Valerie Short, MD

Billie Bruner, MD

J. Christopher Hancock, MD

Janis P. McNeil, MD

M.D. Hardy, MD

David Smith, MD

Gerhard Mundinger, MD

Chad Hosemann, DO

Kristi Kay Trimm, DO