Beaufort News

Guardian bankruptcy likely won't affect area hospitals

Guardian Healthcare insurance company's recent bankruptcy will have a minimal effect in Beaufort County, according to officials at local hospitals.

Guardian, based in Greenville and formed in 2007, offered Medicare Advantage policies in every county last year before stranding thousands of South Carolina health care providers with an estimated $27 million in unpaid claims for services already rendered.

Policyholders, however, are not responsible for claims that would have been covered by the insurer, said Andrea Bowers, the independent contractor responsible for liquidating Guardian's assets.

Providers are not supposed to bill Guardian patients for costs the insurer can't cover, but some are doing so anyway, Bowers said.

Providers might be sending the bills mistakenly because patients are typically on the hook for anything insurers won't cover, but that's not the case under Medicare rules, she said.

The bankruptcy is among the biggest involving a South Carolina insurer in state history, but it shouldn't have a big impact on local hospitals, officials said.

Kelly Presnell, a spokeswoman for Hilton Head and Coastal Carolina hospitals, said the two hospitals account for less than 1 percent of Guardian's $27 million in estimated unpaid claims.

By contrast, the Medical University of South Carolina has about $1 million, or about 4 percent of the total, in unpaid claims.

Beaufort Memorial Hospital officials did not provide an estimate for the hospital's unpaid claims, but they also expect the impact to be minimal.

"It's not nearly as much as it is in the bigger cities like Columbia or Charleston," hospital spokeswoman Nora Kresch said.

The (Charleston) Post & Courier contributed to this report.