Aetna and UNC Health Care sign new contract

Insurer’s customers can return to health care system Nov. 1

mcornatzer@newsobserver.comOctober 11, 2012 

Aetna and the UNC Health Care system have settled their differences.

The insurer and UNC Health severed ties in February, 2011, after contract negotiations failed. UNC wanted more money from Aetna to keep up with rising costs. Some 8,000 Aetna members were forced to switch to a non-UNC doctor or facility or pay much higher “out of network” costs.

Negotiations re-started a few months ago, said UNC spokeswoman Jennifer James, and a new three-year contract was signed Thursday.

It becomes effective Nov. 1. On that date Aetna members can once again get care at UNC Hospitals, Rex Hospital, Chatham Hospital and physicians networks associated with UNC Health Care – more than 1,500 providers – without paying the higher fees.

Financial terms of the contract were not released.

UNC at one time requested a 16 percent increase for UNC Hospitals, a 22 percent increase at Rex and a 52 percent increase for Rex-affiliated physicians. Aetna refused, citing its efforts to keep health care costs down.

Walt Cherniak, spokesman for Aetna, declined to talk about any price increase saying, “I’m sure there are a number of interested hospitals who would want to read those numbers.”

He added: “We were both disappointed when our relationship ended. It’s to the credit of both organizations that we were able to get back together and find a resolution that worked for both of us. It pleases us to make that hospital and affiliated facilities and physicians available to our members.”

The fracas prompted some Triangle employers to re-evaluate their choice of insurer. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, allowed its 5,000 employees in the region to switch to UnitedHealthcare. It was unclear, however, how many did so.

Cherniak said that he was sure the insurer had lost some business after the dispute but “along the way we grew the business in other places.” Aetna has more than 300,000 members in the state.

The new contract comes at an opportune time for the insurer as many employers are negotiating new insurance contracts and employees are looking at their health care enrollment options for next year.

Cornatzer: 919-829-4755

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