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Blue Cross, health system come to terms
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If your employer-sponsored health insurance is through Blue Cross, you can relax now.

In an unexpected, last-minute compromise, Northeast Georgia Health System and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia reached a contract agreement late Tuesday night, Sept. 30.

Had they not done so, all of the doctors and facilities connected to Northeast Georgia Physicians Group and the Heart Center would have dropped out of the Blue Cross network on Wednesday, Oct. 1.

That meant patients with a Blue Cross HMO, POS or PPO plan would have had to pay for much of their health-care costs out of their own pocket.

Also, if the contract dispute had dragged on for another six months, Northeast Georgia Medical Center the largest hospital in the region and all of its related facilities would have gone out of the Blue Cross network on March 1.

But none of that will happen now. The health system and Blue Cross have signed an agreement that is expected to remain in place for at least four years, according to NGHS spokeswoman Melissa Tymchuk.

Were very pleased that we were able to find common ground, she said on Wednesday morning. Its a big relief, obviously for our patients, but also for our staff. The physicians offices had spent many hours trying to figure out how to provide continuity of care for the patients.

Both NGHS and Blue Cross had been sending out letters to everyone who would be affected by the impending change, though they offered distinctly different messages.

The health system recommended that patients switch to a different insurance company if they had the option to do so, while Blue Cross encouraged its members to switch to different doctors and hospitals.

Either tactic would have caused hardships for many patients. NGHS tried to help by rescheduling some October appointments for September, and by making special financial arrangements for patients with chronic illnesses that require frequent doctor visits. A phone hotline was also set up to answer patients questions.

Tymchuk said the job of communicating with patients is not quite over yet.

Now we have to mail out another batch of letters, this time to tell patients the good news, she said.

This positive outcome seemed unlikely in late September, when both parties insisted that they had made their final offer on the deal and would not compromise.

The terms of the new contract do not allow the parties to disclose who decided to make concessions or why they did so.

Morgan Kendrick, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, issued the following statement Tuesday night:

We value our longstanding relationship with the hospital and medical professionals at Northeast Georgia Health System. Several months of hard work have brought these negotiations to a successful conclusion for the good of the community. Were pleased that our members in the Gainesville area will continue to have access to the high-quality medical care provided by Northeast Georgia Health System.

Actually, the negotiations had been going on since January. And NGHS serves not just Gainesville but 14 rural Northeast Georgia counties.

Whats most important is that our patients will be able to continue receiving care with no disruption of service, Tymchuk said.

In Dawson County, school and county employees are covered by Blue Cross.