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Contract dispute could force thousands to find new doctors

A small white medical computer shows a black screen with hilly green, blue and purple graph lines and numbers in green, blue and white beside the lines.
Travis Wise
CC BY 2.0
Contract disputes between the Boulder Community Health system and UnitedHealthcare insurance are still ongoing. It could render some United Healthcare insurance holders out-of-network at their nearest hospitals.

Boulder Community Health and UnitedHealthcare have been in contract negotiations for months. With no agreement in sight, the dispute could start affecting patients if the two parties don't come to terms by the end of September.

Boulder Community Health claims the insurer UnitedHealthcare is offering rates that are financially unsustainable. UnitedHealthcare claims they’re offering market-rate plans to Boulder Community Health.

According to the Boulder Reporting Lab, if a resolution doesn't arrive before October 1, about 13,000 Boulder Community Health patients insured by UnitedHealthcare would be left scrambling to find new providers or pay huge fees for out-of-network care. Pregnant women, cancer patients and people with other severe illnesses, however, may be eligible to continue to receive care even without a resolution.

Boulder Community Health is claiming that accepting the current offer from UnitedHealthcare would force the nonprofit medical system to downsize its staff and potentially eliminate certain services. The organization also contends that the new contract doesn't keep up with the general inflation rate, subsequently depressing wages at Boulder Community Health and driving employees to look for more lucrative offers.

Boulder Community Health offered a written statement on the matter: "Hospitals and health systems across the US are experiencing significant adverse financial impacts related to the pandemic combined with rapid increases in costs for labor, supplies and other expenses. Increasing the financial burden on hospitals and their providers exacerbates the pressure and burnout health care workers are experiencing."

UnitedHealthcare claims the offer extended is not only market-rate, but is also meant to keep the insurer from raising costs for patients. A UnitedHealthcare spokesperson offered this written statement: "We want to keep BCH (Boulder Community Health) in our network and are committed to engaging in productive conversations...We remain fully committed to good-faith negotiation and urge BCH to work with us to reach an agreement that is affordable for families and customers in Colorado."

October 1 is the deadline for the two entities to come to an agreement.

As a general assignment reporter and backup host, I gather news and write stories for broadcast, and I fill in to host for Morning Edition or All Things Considered when the need arises.
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