The 120,000 Independence Blue Cross members in the Philadelphia area who faced potential loss of access to several community hospitals — Brandywine, Chestnut Hill, Jennersville Regional, Phoenixville, and Pottstown Memorial — can rest easy.
Independence and Tower Health have reached a three-year deal to keep the five hospitals "in-network" for Independence members, the two organizations said Friday. Reading Hospital also will remain in-network; it could have fallen out in November.
The dispute arose after Tower closed Sunday on a deal to acquire the five hospitals from Community Health Systems Inc. The price for the hospitals has not been disclosed. With completion of the sale, Independence's contracts with Community Health ended, and there was nothing to replace them.
The standoff caused anxiety for many patients in the region because they might have been forced to find new hospitals.
"There is no break in service with the agreement," Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Tower, said Friday, adding that the accord was reached Thursday after days of rigorous negotiations. Independence members can "use the hospitals like they did before," he said.
Independence spokeswoman Donna Crilley Farrell said there would be no changes for members as part of the new agreement. "We realized this caused some anxiety," she said. "We really appreciate the patience of people who were working with us."
Earlier this week, Matthews said Independence had been seeking a "noncompete clause" that would have prevented Tower, formerly Reading Health System, from selling health-insurance coverage in parts of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Tower is in a 50-50 joint venture with UPMC Health Plan, a unit of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, that insures 30,000 people in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and six other counties.
The agreement with Independence does not include a noncompete clause, a Tower spokeswoman said Friday.
Independence agreed that there was no noncompete clause but said it had negotiated safeguards to protect its business.
"Look, we think competition is good," Anthony V. Coletta, president of Independence's facilitated health networks, said in a statement. "What we said all along was that we didn't want to fund a competitor. We didn't want to give a competitor our tools that we share with our provider partners or our facilitated health network proprietary information. We're not going to get into specifics, but suffice it to say that this agreement resolves that concern with firewalls and guidelines around data usage, data sharing, and our proprietary and confidential information."
Coletta added that the "the foremost goal in these discussions was ensuring access to quality, affordable care for our members at these five community hospitals. It's part of our commitment to offering the broadest choice of doctors and hospitals in the region. Community hospitals like these are important to provide local care for our members. Negotiations can get bumpy at times, but in the end, Independence received the terms and assurances we needed to best serve our members."