Blue Cross, Integris reach deal to avoid displacing patients
Oklahoma City — Integris Health hospital network and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma announced Tuesday they have reached an agreement to stay in network and avoid displacing patients.
Their contract was scheduled to end on Friday. If they hadn't reached an agreement, patients would have had to go to different hospitals, or face higher out-of-network charges.
A news release stated the agreement would last for two years, but offered few other details about its terms. It also extended a separate contract with 600 physicians employed at Integris, whose contract was set to expire on Oct. 24.
The contract dispute had centered on changes Blue Cross wants to make to the contract, including requiring all Integris doctors who treat Blue Cross patients to join its network. Blue Cross says it wants to help patients avoid surprise out-of-network charges, while Integris says the move would deny providers choices.
Melissa Clark, spokeswoman for Blue Cross, said Integris still has some independent providers that aren't part of the network, so patients should check if their provider is in-network to avoid higher bills.
The extension likely will come as a relief to patients who had care scheduled at Integris. Blue Cross had said some patients with ongoing conditions, such as pregnant women, could get an exemption to continue their care at Integris without paying higher rates. Patients had to apply for exemptions, however, and some weren't sure if they would qualify.
Mia Blake's family had a particularly nerve-wracking situation: she is scheduled to give birth by caesarean at Lakeside Women's Hospital, which is part of the Integris hospital system, on Saturday, one day after the contract would have ended.
Blake said a Blue Cross staff member she spoke to told her that the company wouldn't start processing exemption applications until after the contract ended, if necessary, which left her with the prospect of not knowing if her family would have to pay the higher out-of-network deductible until after the baby was born.
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The situation was particularly difficult because her obstetrician doesn't have admitting privileges at other hospitals and other obstetricians weren't likely to take on a new patient who is within days of giving birth, Blake said. Her obstetrician offered to deliver the baby a few days earlier, in case the contract ended, but that wasn't an option because her two-year-old had chickenpox, which could be dangerous to the baby if the child was still contagious when they came home, she said.