United Healthcare to reinstate Block Island
The Block Island Times learned this week that insurance giant United Healthcare has reversed its earlier decision to drop Block Island Health Services from its roster of providers. The Times had reported on that action in its Oct. 25 edition.
On Nov. 5, United Healthcare replied to the paper’s inquiry about that decision with the following announcement: “We are pleased to say that Block Island Health Center physicians will remain in our Medicare Advantage network for 2014. We value our members on the island and throughout Rhode Island, and look forward to continue serving them next year.” It was confirmed by The Block Island Times that all four primary healthcare providers working at the medical center will be reinstated.
When reached in her office, BIHS Executive Director Barbara Baldwin said she had been contacted by United Healthcare, but was told that it might take up to a week to reinstate Block Island. Baldwin said she was still waiting for official confirmation as of press time Thursday.
Originally, Baldwin received word from United on Oct. 2, when the company informed her that it would “discontinue your [BIHS] participation in the Medicare Advantage Network, effective Feb. 1, 2014.”
United’s action not only affected the island medical center and the 24 patients who participated in the Medicare Advantage network, but also some 100 physicians and 36,000 members throughout Rhode Island.
On behalf of BIHS, Baldwin immediately submitted an appeal to United Healthcare. She also responded to an open letter from United published in The Block Island Times on Oct. 22. In her letter, she took the company to task for claiming to offer “high quality and an expansive network of physicians,” while terminating island [and many state] clinicians from “their participation in the Medicare Advantage network without a statement of cause.”
Baldwin pointed out the insurance company had failed to notify those patients who were to be directly affected — patients she said who would be “forced to pay out of network rates or ... 100 percent of the cost.”
In another letter addressed to Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), Baldwin asked for him “to intervene on our behalf.” In addition, she contacted representatives of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to convey the untenable position in which United’s action had put the local medical center.
AARP, which is described as a non-profit, non-partisan organization advocating for a constituency of persons over 50, offers several insurance products including the Medicare Advantage Network through a partnership with United Healthcare. It is not clear what AARP’s reaction is to United’s current policy of terminating providers and members in some ten states across the country. At press time, The Block Island Times was waiting for an AARP representative in Providence to respond.