WAYNESBORO — Augusta Health and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield ended a contract impasse Friday that had lasted the better part of a year — and left Anthem subscribers out of network at the hospital since Jan. 1.
The two sides finalized a new four-year agreement Friday that takes effect on Sunday.
The hospital had sought an increase in payments of 7.5 percent per year in its compensation package from Anthem, which the hospital said was comparable to what Anthem was paying other area hospitals. Anthem had said last fall, when the impasse was just heating up, that its proposed terms were in fact on a par with other community hospitals.
Complete details of the new agreement were not immediately available and the terms of the deal, including what, if anything, each side conceded, are unknown.
Mark LaRosa, Augusta Health's vice president of business development and chief strategy officer, said the hospital, its urgent care centers, physicians and all others services will now be back in network with Anthem starting on Sunday.
"Our goal has been to secure the future viability of Augusta Health for the community," LaRosa said. "To that end, significant progress was made toward that goal."
LaRosa said during the last six months, Augusta Health was able to help about 10,000 Anthem subscribers receive care through the help center it set up when Anthem became an out-of-network provider on Jan. 1.
Even with that assistance, however, many patients were forced to go to Charlottesville, Harrisonburg and elsewhere for procedures, operations and other care they needed.
That didn't sit well with many Anthem patients who grew increasingly fed up over the last six months with their inability to access in-network care at Augusta Health. Letters to the editor, social media and other forums included comments from local residents who blamed the hospital or the insurance company, and often both, for the lack of movement on a new contract.
The health center and the Augusta Health website will remain open to assist patients with questions during the transition period to in-network status, LaRosa said.
LaRosa offered thanks the local community for its patience, and recognized that it was not always easy.
"We thank the employees of Augusta Health, the medical community, and the community at large for supporting us through this impasse," he said.
During an interview in the spring, LaRosa said Anthem had moved very little on what the hospital had asked for. But he said the two sides were continuing to negotiate on a weekly basis.
On Friday, Jeff Ricketts, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, offered a statement similar to Augusta Health's, thanking the community for its patience and insisting the insurance company "take[s] seriously" its commitment to "affordable ... high quality" health care.
"We are very pleased to reach a new agreement with Augusta Health that will bring its facilities and physicians back into our network of care providers," Ricketts said in the statement.