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Taxpayers at Risk in United-BayCare Fight

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WFLA

Angry workers who are being forced to switch hospitals and doctors because their employer offers only UnitedHealth networks are unloading on their employers, and the employers unloaded their own anger at a press conference on Friday.

Among the employers are a number of government agencies, whose leaders said the impasse may result in higher health costs and higher taxes.

Sarah Pusateri covered the press conference for Health News Florida. Here is a transcript of her report: 

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If you live in north Pinellas and work for the county, there's a chance you’re probably mad. That’s because the number of hospitals and doctor groups you can use shrank dramatically on Nov. 26, when BayCare dumped United.

If workers are upset, their bosses are, too. They held a press conference (on Friday) to say so. Here’s John Marroni, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission:

“We implore -- and I use that word sincerely -- we implore United Health Care and BayCareHealth System to agree to adhere to the following statement of principles and responsible actions:

--Exercise corporate responsibility and good stewardship.

--End polarization to find commonality for the good of all those concerned.

--Come together in good faith to resolve differences in the public interest.”

While the two sides disagree about precisely what went wrong, it’s clearly about money. BayCare says United owes it $11 million. United says that’s not so. It says BayCare wants to hike premium rates for employers by as much as 20 percent. BayCare denies that.

United got good rates for its employer-clients. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his agency pays less than half of the bottom line on a BayCare bill.

"The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office health plan spent about $5 million dollars with BayCare, and because of the discount rate with the contract, absent that,  the billed rate would have been over $11 million dollars, so having this contract in place, this discount  rates with these networks is very, very important.

" If nothing changes...it's still going to  the agency will be paying $2 million more a year. One of the things we’re actively looking at now is different networks and if they can’t resolve this we are going to explore whether we stay with UHC….We want them to fix this, we want them to get this right...if they can’t get it right, we’re going to have to make some very hard decisions.

And taxpayers will feel the pain, says St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster: It’s your money. It’s the people’s money. I think the pressure needs to come from not only the rate payers but the taxpayers as well that force these parties to come together to resolve this quickly.”

After all, he says, this isn't a game.

'This isn't hockey, we're not talking the NHL here to where a stalemate keeps people off the ice, we're talking about a continuum of health care. We're talking about first responders and those that treat the water and provide the drinking water. We're talking about employees and or retirees having the peace of mind that they have this continuum of medical care."

Both BayCare and United were invited to attend the press conference but both declined.

For Health News Florida, I'm Sarah Pusateri.