SOUTHAMPTON HOSPITAL REACHES AGREEMENT WITH EMPIRE

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Southampton Hospital representatives announced yesterday that they have reached a tentative new contract with Empire BlueCross BlueShield, which means the hospital’s largest healthcare insurer will continue to cover patients through 2009.

In-network service at Southampton Hospital was scheduled to end for Empire clients on May 31, leaving those patients to pay out of pocket or use another hospital for non-emergency care. However, the two sides reached an agreement Wednesday to continue in-network service through the summer of 2009, according to Eastern Suffolk Health Network spokesman Paul Connor III.

“It’s just a matter of a final review and a signature,” said Mr. Connor, who is also the president and CEO of Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. The two hospitals will receive higher reimbursement rates from Empire, which was their primary goal in the negotiations, and say the Empire deal could expedite a new contract with Oxford, the hospital’s second-largest insurer; the current contract is set to expire June 6.

Mr. Connor said, based on his perception, both the Eastern Suffolk Health Network and Empire have a “high level of comfort” with the new contract, though specific details of the agreement were not immediately available.

The hospitals in Greenport and Southampton negotiated a new contract with Empire together, under the auspices of the health network. The health network, comprised of Eastern Long Island Hospital, Southampton and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, was incorporated this year to allow the three East End hospitals to share resources and consolidate their bargaining power against suppliers and insurers.

Mr. Connor did note that the network achieved two of its major goals. First, Southampton and the hospital in Greenport managed to negotiate a contract with an August 31, 2009, end date, to match the expiration of Peconic Bay’s contract with Empire. That way, all three hospitals will be able to collectively negotiate with Empire next year, Mr. Connor said.

As for the second goal, Eastern Long Island and Southampton hospitals will receive higher reimbursement rates—the amount that insurers pay healthcare providers for treating policyholders—putting them on par with Peconic Bay. Peconic Bay had negotiated its current Empire contract in a partnership with the larger Stony Brook University Medical Center. Mr. Connor said it was unclear at this point if Stony Brook would participate in next year’s negotiations.

The network’s ultimate goal is contracts for all three East End hospitals with all insurance providers, and for the hospitals to have reimbursement rates equitable with higher-paid western Suffolk County healthcare facilities. Mr. Connor said the new contract is a step toward that goal.

Southampton Hospital and Peconic Bay are still in the midst of negotiations with Oxford, the second-largest health insurance provider in the region.

Eastern Long Island Hospital has on ongoing contract with Oxford, but Southampton and Peconic Bay are in termination with the company, meaning the contracts have expired, but service still continues during a state-mandated two-month “cooling off period.”

The last day for in-network service for Oxford clients at Southampton Hospital is slated for June 6, unless they agree to a contract extension or arrive at a new agreement. In fact, Peconic Bay already has an extension with Oxford, however, the one-month reprieve for Oxford policyholders is slated to end on May 31.

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