Hartford Hospital “Hopeful” In Negotiations With UnitedHealth Group As Sunday Deadline Nears

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Hartford Hospital is “hopeful” in its negotiations Friday with UnitedHealth Group. Thousands of patients face higher, out-of-network rates if the two parties don’t have a new contract by the time the current agreement expires at midnight Sunday.

The nation’s largest health insurer and the hospital have been in a bitter dispute over reimbursement rates the insurer will pay the hospital for medical services. On Friday, however, the talks may have taken a turn.

“We are talking and we are hopeful,” said Hartford Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Stewart.

She would not elaborate. UnitedHealth declined to make an official statement on the negotiations.

The contract affects both Hartford Hospital and its affiliate, The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and Southington.

A month ago, Hartford Hospital notified 26,783 patients who have come to the hospitals in the past 12 months and had UnitedHealthcare or Oxford health insurance or Medicare Advantage plans. UnitedHealth Group is the parent company of both. That number comprises 9,500 for Hartford Hospital patients and 17,283 for The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

UnitedHealth said it sent letters to about 6,800 members who might face higher, out-of-network rates if a new contract is not in place by the end of the day Sunday, Oct. 28.

This current fight represents an ongoing struggle between hospitals and health insurers with hospitals saying they need rates that will guarantee quality health care and insurers saying they are trying to contain medical costs.

Stewart said earlier this month that the hospital is seeking an increase in reimbursement rates slightly above medical inflation, which she said is 5.9 percent. The hospital would not say what percentage increase it wants each year other than Stewart saying “around 6 percent.”

UnitedHealth spokesman Daryl Richard said earlier this month that consumers would pay 30 percent more over three years if the insurer gave the hospital the rates it wants.

This article is evolving online. Check back for updates.

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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