ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Right now, thousands of employees across Abilene are anxiously waiting on an agreement between Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and Hendrick Health System, which is now the only hospital in city limits.
A negotiation process began after a BCBS news release was sent out, stating Hendrick would leave the network if a higher price could not be negotiated.
“There is some concern because it’s health insurance, coverage, that’s a big deal,” said Tommy Vaughn, Assistant Superintendent of Wylie ISD, in reference to the ongoing deliberation.
Wylie ISD is among many entities that could be affected by the decision.
“We don’t have a lot of control over the situation, so we’re just having to watch like everybody else,” explained Vaughn.
But how did we get to this point?
In 2019, House Bill 3301 was passed, effective in only 8 counties in the state of Texas (Angelina, Bowie, Cherokee, Colorado, Taylor, Tom Green, Wichita, Wood), paving the way for Hendrick Health and Abilene Regional to merge in the spring of 2020. This bill essentially changed the rules, permitting a merger to happen without federal involvement.
In order to merge without federal approval, hospitals need a Certificate of Public Advantage, or COPA. COPAs detail the benefits that outweigh the negatives when competition, such as other hospitals, is reduced.
Later in 2020, the FTC voiced their concern for COPAs and deals like this, saying “the proposed Hendrick merger presents substantial risk of serious competitive and consumer harm in the form of increased healthcare costs and lower quality.” (FTC Staff Comment to Texas Health and Human Services Commission Regarding Certificate of Public Advantage Applications (documentcloud.org).
Fast forward to today, and many are worried about their health insurance coverage. If an agreement cannot be reached, some patients may be left “out of network.”
The original deadline for an agreement to be met was Feb. 1st, 2023, but KTAB/KRBC obtained a statement from a BCBS correspondent Wednesday night that says, “we expect that the Jan. 31 termination notice will be extended in order to continue negotiating the best terms of Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas members. We hope to reach an agreement soon.”
Meanwhile, Hendrick Health has not returned our request for comment, but according to patients, they have received a letter from the health care provider instructing them to contact BCBS for more details.
As for Vaughn and many others, they remain hopeful.
“We are aware of the situation, monitoring the situation. I truly believe over these next three weeks it’s going to get worked out,” said Vaughn.