Hospitals scrambling to help seniors

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 1, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / Febuary 1, 1999

LAPLACE – Hospitals in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes arereacting swiftly to the abrupt departure of United Health Care as a Medicare supplement program.

River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace and St. Charles Parish Hospital inLuling each received their notices at the end of December, which stated that without signing a new contract in which they would be paid 20 percent less, their contracts with the insurance company would end.

This is to go into effect March 1.

In reaction, the hospitals are scrambling to help patients find new Medicare supplement plans, or risk losing these steady, long-term outpatient customers to other physicians and hospitals.

The departure, prompted by unacceptable repayment contracts offered by United Health Care, left hundreds of senior citizens scrambling in the last few weeks for a new health plan and concerned about whether they would be able to keep their accustomed primary-care doctors.

Jerry Desselle, marketing director at St. Charles Parish Hospital, said hishospital actually cut United out. He explained they offered a repaymentplan which would have crippled or closed the hospital.

“They want to cut out as many hospitals as possible,” Desselle added.

He has responded by calling a series of meetings with the hospital’s Medicare patients to calm their racked nerves and reassure them they have good choices, but that they need to make the choices soon.

A chart provided by Desselle to the patients listed every physician at that facility and to which insurance carrier they belong.

The hospital’s business director, Lynn Ory, said, “I’m averaging 25-30 calls per day on this, not only from patients but also their children. Itreally has been an unfortunate situation.”Ory said straight Medicare doesn’t pay for certain services, such as prescriptions and certain ongoing needs as for diabetics. Medicaresupplements, therefore, offer a badly-needed relief for senior citizens, who are often on a fixed income.

However, to sign a new contract which would slash by 20 percent their income from that source would be “fiscally irresponsible,” Ory commented.

“This kind of change is very upsetting,” Ory observed. “It’s very sad.”Doctors at River Parishes Hospital are “disappointed…frustrated,”marketing director Sean Roussel said. “They want to provide quality careto these people.”However, United Health Care’s offer was unacceptable, he said.

Roussel added, “We could not sign that contract and provide quality care and stay open. The main thing we’re doing is reassuring people they canstill see their doctors.”St. James Parish residents using River Parishes Hospital, though, could bein a quandry. The options now being offered include Aetna Insurance, butAetna does not operate in that parish. “Hopefully, we can have moreoptions by March 1.”The situation developed, according to Ory, because insurance companies which developed these plans hoped to provide services at a cost under that of Medicare, taking the difference in profit. However, they quickly learnedit couldn’t be done and many are bailing out, leaving seniors abandoned.

“This is not our choice – it’s costing us patients,” Roussel said. “Unitedmade it clear to us they are terminating our contract.”Roussel concluded, as to the patients they may lose: “These are people we all know. We’re upset.”

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