After lengthy wrangling, hospitals reach accord with Anthem

Hartford and Windham hospitals have reached a “long-term” agreement on new contracts with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, averting the possibility that the capital region’s largest hospital would sever ties with the state’s largest insurer.

The hospitals’ contract with the insurer was slated to expire today.

The contract dispute played out in public in recent weeks, with letters sent to patients and advertisements detailing each side’s claims in The Hartford Courant.

Hartford Hospital said Anthem paid less than other insurers, while Anthem said the rates it paid Hartford and Windham hospitals–which share a parent company–were comparable to what it paid other hospitals.

The two sides did not release details of the new agreements, which take effect Monday.

The dispute drew the attention of public officials. State Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo called it a “game of corporate ‘chicken'” in a letter to both sides last week. Lembo, a candidate for state comptroller, said the public communications seemed to be intended “to rile folks up.”

A group of representatives from self-insured health plans, including the state’s, wrote to Hartford Hospital President and CEO Elliot Joseph, warning that they could not afford to pay the double-digit rate increases the hospital was seeking. Anthem later reprinted the letter in a Courant advertisement.

This week, representatives of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition filed a federal complaint accusing the hospitals of violating union members’ privacy in telephone calls and letters informing them that the hospital could leave Anthem’s network. The letters asked patients to contact Anthem President David Fusco and included his office address, e-mail and telephone number. The union said the hospitals were putting members in the middle of a contract dispute and had used access to patients’ medical records “simply to pressure an insurer to accede to their demands.”

A response from Hartford Hospital said the letters were meant to inform patients that their health care coverage might change.