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Quality Health Care Can Also Be Affordable (Letter to the Editor)

3 min read

TO THE EDITOR:

We recognize the care Conway Regional Health System provides our members is not only important but also personal. For that reason, we are disappointed Conway Regional walked away from the significant rate increases we proposed to the health system and has chosen to leave our network.

Our goal was to renew our relationship at a cost that was affordable and sustainable for the people and employers we serve throughout central Arkansas. All of Conway Regional’s proposals made that outcome unrealistic. The health system’s last proposal included demands to double the cost of care at its hospitals over the next 24 months, including a 65% price hike in the first year of our contract.

Conway Regional’s proposal would have significantly increased premiums and out-of-pocket costs for Arkansas families as well as the cost of doing business for employers; one business would see its costs increase by nearly $1.1 million, while another would see its costs driven up by more than $800,000. This is not affordable for these companies.

Conway Regional has attempted to justify these price increases by claiming it’s reimbursed less than its competitors in the market. This ignores the reality of how contracts are negotiated, which take into account the services provided, quality of care, cost and many other factors. Conway Regional’s proposal would have made the cost of care at its hospitals substantially higher than all other hospitals in the market.

Many Arkansas families are struggling to afford the rapid and unrelenting rise in health care costs. These costs have also challenged many businesses’ abilities to continue offering their employees the health care benefits they deserve and count on. That is why they have asked us to be an advocate for their companies as we negotiate with the physicians and hospitals in our network.

The majority of Arkansas residents are enrolled in a self-funded commercial health plan. That means UnitedHealthcare isn’t paying the claims for those employees’ health care. Those bills go directly to the employer. Businesses that opt for a self-funded health plan are assuming the risk of paying for their employees’ health care needs. So as the cost of health care continues to rise, it cuts directly into their bottom line, making it more difficult to afford quality benefits as well as all the other things that are essential to running a successful business, like investing in information technology and other infrastructure needs, or offering hardworking employees much-deserved raises.

On the other end of the spectrum are the small businesses we serve that are fully insured. For fully insured businesses, rising health care costs lead to tough decisions: Do they raise premiums for their employees? Increase their co-pays and deductibles? Or do they stop offering health benefits altogether?

If you’ve wondered why we cannot just agree to the 100% rate increase that Conway Regional is seeking over the next 24 months, this is why. That kind of rate increase just simply isn’t sustainable or affordable for the majority of families and employers throughout central Arkansas.

We know that people’s relationships with their doctors are important, and we do not take this type of disruption in the market lightly. It’s important to note Conway Regional is the first Arkansas hospital to leave our network in several years.

Know we will stay at the negotiating table as long as it takes to reach an agreement. We hope Conway Regional will join us there. Quality health care can and should be affordable, and the people and companies of central Arkansas deserve both.

— Stephen Wilson, CEO, UnitedHealthcare in Arkansas

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