Gainesville-based health system, Anthem finally reach contract deal

Three months after their previous contract ended, Northeast Georgia Health System and Georgia’s largest insurer reached an agreement Monday on a new deal that restores network status to thousands of consumers.

The long-running contract dispute had attracted the interest of major state lawmakers and had unnerved many patients of the Gainesville-based system who have Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. Northeast Georgia has hospitals in Gainesville, Braselton, Winder and Dahlonega, dominating medical care in those areas.

Consumers in those areas faced a tough choice during open enrollment periods: whether to sign up for an Anthem health plan and lose network access to those hospitals, or choose another health plan with Northeast Georgia as a network provider.

Since the last contract ended Sept. 30, Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS) had been spending millions of dollars to ensure patients weren’t hit with out-of-network costs for visiting its physicians and hospitals. But that arrangement was set to run out Jan. 1.

Two powerful members of the Georgia General Assembly said recently that Anthem and Northeast Georgia were “close to an agreement in principle’’ on a new contract. Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller (R–Gainesville) and Rep. Terry England (R–Auburn), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a joint statement in late December that “the parties have documents in hand that are moving towards a deal.’’

“I’m pleased to announce a new multiyear agreement that restores in-network access for patients at all NGHS locations,” Steve McNeilly, vice president of managed care at NGHS, said in a statement Monday.  “Negotiations are complex, and we recognize that they are often frustrating to members. We appreciate the support and patience of our community.”

Pam Stahl, president of the Anthem plan in Georgia, said in a statement, “We are happy to resume our partnership with NGHS in a new agreement that will drive quality, affordability and accessibility for those we serve. We value the relationships we have with the providers in our network, which are absolutely critical to creating options for our consumers and fulfilling our mission of improving the lives of the people in the communities we serve.”

Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville