MURRAY — While much of Murray and Calloway County has been expressing great concern during a contract dispute between its hospital and the insurance provider that covers much of the community’s most important entities, hospital CEO Jerry Penner had exhibited a rather calm tone.
Actually, it was a tone of confidence as, time and again, he predicted that the conflict between Murray-Calloway County Hospital and Anthem would result in an agreement. On Wednesday, it did.
“I never was worried,” Penner said Wednesday afternoon as he reported that the deal was in place. This comes after the hospital terminated its contract with Anthem in the fall, sending ripple after ripple of fear through a community whose school districts, at least one industrial facility, some of its banks and its largest employer, Murray State University, all are served by Anthem.
“Really, this is not unusual. What we went through here is no different from normal contract negotiations,” Penner said, adding that he is glad that this matter is now in the past. “Of course I am, but we’ve got a great team that was involved in this whole process and Anthem understood where we were coming from, so they were part of this too.”
The agreement was reached about a month ahead of a Feb. 16 deadline for negotiations to have reached common ground. However, throughout the process, Penner had said that even if that deadline had come and gone, negotiations would have continued with Anthem and, though benefit levels might have been different, the hospital and its affiliate clinics and offices would have continued accepting patients covered by Anthem.
In the Dec. 30 meeting of the Murray-Calloway County Public Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees, MCCH Chief Financial Officer John Bradford had told trustees that he believed talks would resume in earnest following the Christmas/New Year’s season. He said that at that time, the last phone conversations between the hospital and Anthem had been on the Tuesday before Christmas. At that time, he said the hospital was about to receive a counterproposal.
He also left the meeting by saying, “I hope to have a more concrete update in the next couple of weeks.” Wednesday came 16 days after Bradford made that statement.
The dispute began in October when the hospital told Anthem it was terminating its current contract as a protest over how MCCH said its reimbursement rates with the insurance firm had not increased. Meanwhile its expenses in other areas continued to rise, which Penner said is a common problem for all American hospitals these days.
Penner said some reimbursements for the hospital had not had a raise in the past 10 years, so it was time to do something to stem this trend. It decided to address the issue with its largest insurance provider first.
MCCH said Anthem is the largest insurance company in America with about 40 million subscribers. Penner said that the agreement should be finalized within the next 30 days.