Tenet Health, UnitedHealthcare reach last-minute accord

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 31, 2013 

UnitedHealthcare insurance customers will continue to have access to Tenet Healthcare's Lowcountry medical facilities, including Hilton Head and Coastal Carolina hospitals, after a last-minute agreement Thursday between the two health giants.

The tentative deal, reached just hours before the previous contract was to expire, keeps Tenet's facilities part of United's network. Receiving medical treatment from so-called "in-network" facilities often costs substantially less than similar care from out-of-network providers.

"We are in the process of finalizing a new agreement and expect to have it in place ... to ensure UnitedHealthcare members have continued access to all Tenet hospitals and affiliated physicians," United spokeswoman Cheryl Randolph said.

She added that the deal was expected to be completed Wednesday.

Negotiations stretched for months and aimed to ensure service for customers of both companies would continue uninterrupted. The prior agreement was due to lapse at midnight Aug. 1.

Medicare customers with supplemental insurance through United were among those who would have been affected had the agreement lapsed, Randolph said.

A Tenet spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Kelly Presnell, spokeswoman for Hilton Head Regional Healthcare, said the agreement ensures patients "will have uninterrupted access to the outstanding quality care they have come to expect from our hospitals."

It's not clear how many Beaufort County residents would have been affected had the two sides remained at an impasse. Neither company provided that information.

Tenet, a for-profit hospital system based in Dallas, operates four hospitals and 10 outpatient centers in South Carolina. The company had more than $9 billion in operating revenues last year, according to its website.

United Health Group Inc., parent company of UnitedHealthcare, is based in Minneapolis. According to its website, the company earned $5.5 billion in profit last year on revenues of $110.6 billion.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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