HMSA plays hardball in hospital negotiations

By Howard Dicus - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - HMSA told its members Thursday that they could pay more for care at several Hawaii hospitals if a new contract agreement is not reached before the current expires next year.

"We are disappointed in HMSA's actions and view on the situation, which we only learned of through their public statements," said Chuck Sted, CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, which operates the Straub, Kapiolani, Pali Momi and Wilcox hospitals.

HMSA, which insures two thirds of Hawaii residents as the state Blue Cross provider, put a notice on its Web site that warned of possible higher costs.

"Hawaii Pacific Health facilities may no longer participate in HMSA's network after Jan. 31," HMSA said, adding, "We will continue to work toward a reasonable agreement."

The warning was unusual for such negotiations, since the current contract has nearly four more months to go and contract negotiations continued this week.

"HMSA commercial members who continue to use Hawaii Pacific Health hospitals would pay more out-of-pocket for care," HMSA said, referring to what could happen if a new agreement is not reached.

Sted said the notice was not a good faith approach to negotiations and urged HMSA to steer away from "counterproductive attacks."

"From our perspective," he said, "the negotiations have been progressing well and we were completely surprised by HMSA's unexpected aggression to infringe on the physical-patient relationship."

Negotiations are expected to continue, but with the added complication of a public airing of their differences.

Considering their opposing roles, the two operations have some similar views about what will make health care better without adding to costs. Both HMSA and Hawaii Pacific Health are promoting more preventive care. All the major players in the health care industry say it is cheaper to prevent a disease than to treat it.

Health care costs have actually risen less in Hawaii than on the mainland. Local hospital officials attribute this to Hawaii's healthier environment, and to Hawaii law which requires more people to be covered by medical insurance, spreading out the cost of health care among more people, including younger residents who don't consume as many health services.

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