St. Petersburg, Florida - At the Sunshine Center, volunteer Clara White serves up a lot of coffee. But there's more than just coffee brewing here. There's also concern about a dispute that could impact thousands of Tampa Bay area seniors.
"It adds more confusion... more headaches," says the 85-year-old White.
The BayCare hospital network and UnitedHealthcare insurance are battling it out in full-page newspaper ads and behind closed doors. They're in a contract dispute over negotiated reimbursement rates and have apparently come to a stalemate.
BayCare has announced that after November 26, its hospitals will no longer accept United's Medicare Advantage Plan customers.
BayCare has 10 hospitals in Pinellas and Hillsborough and with its size comes bargaining power. "BayCare's a very big gun," says USF Public Health Professor Jay Wolfson.
And Wolfson says BayCare using its patients and community as leverage is a big power play. "That's a serious statement," says Wolfson. "It's announcing to the people on the other side of the table, in this case United, that 'We're playing hardball here.'"
But with these two healthcare giants going at it, the little guys are left with a lot of questions.
"I want to make sure I'm covered. Everybody does," says Lois Allenius of St. Petersburg, who says she's recently had serious health issues.
And news of the dispute has 85-year-old Christiane Foronda worried, because she's a United customer. "Yeah, because I might be hospitalized and I go to St. Anthony's," she says.
The dispute comes at a time when seniors are choosing their Medicare plans for next year and the situation could prompt some people to change. Wolfson says it's always good for people to research their options, still, these contract wars do usually end with a peace plan.
"In the past in Florida and most of the other disputes around the country, they've been resolved miraculously just near the last minute."
UnitedHealthcare urges customers with questions to call the customer service number on the back of their member ID card.
BayCare provides this customer service number: 855-251-7778 and the following document from BayCare also answers some questions.