Northside Hospital Cherokee

Cherokee County has filed a motion to join Northside Hospital in its lawsuit against Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has asked a Fulton County court to dissolve an order keeping Northside Hospital in-network for its customers, amid a contract dispute between the two companies.

The Fulton County Superior Court granted injunctive relief to Northside Hospital Dec. 30, staying the expiration of its contract with Anthem for 30 days, through Jan. 31.

In court filings, Northside cited a Georgia law that prohibits insurers from terminating providers from their networks during a public health emergency, through 150 days after the public health emergency’s expiration date.

Friday, Anthem filed a motion asking the court to dissolve the injunction, arguing that Gov. Brian Kemp declared the end of the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency July 1, the same day the law went into effect.

In its filings, Anthem also accuses Northside of “ambush tactics,” saying the hospital system did not give the insurer’s attorneys enough notice of the filing before the Dec. 30 hearing.

“We are seeking to overturn the previous injunction because we were not given sufficient notice of the initial filing. Also, prolonging the current contract is not in the best interest of our members and customers because it does not provide the assurances for affordability and quality we are seeking in these negotiations,” Anthem spokesperson Tina Gaines said in an email.

Northside officials say the court ruled there is still a public health emergency.

“If Anthem’s request is allowed, more than 400,000 Anthem patients will be immediately separated from their Northside doctors and be out-of-network for Northside hospitals, clinics, and physician practices — all while the COVID-19 winter surge continues with the highest levels of cases yet seen,” Northside Hospital said in a news release.

Tuesday, the hospital system reported it had more than 600 COVID-19 patients in its Atlanta area facilities, nearly half of its inpatient bed capacity.

The court order keeping Northside Hospital physicians and facilities in-network for Anthem remains in effect.

“The injunction issued by the courts is a temporary measure to ensure Anthem patients can still access care within the Northside Healthcare System. In the meantime, Northside is attempting to continue its discussions with Anthem, with the intention of reaching a long-term agreement that provides the best benefits to patients and their families,” the hospital system said. “We urge all Anthem members to contact Anthem to voice their concern with this behavior.”

According to Anthem, the contract dispute affects both individual and corporate members. Medicaid is under a separate contract, so Medicaid customers are not affected.

Anthem representatives have said the insurance company is fighting to reduce healthcare costs.

“Our members can rest assured knowing that we cover emergency care, including treatment for COVID, at any provider, whether that provider chooses to be in our network or not. Ensuring access to care is why we began negotiations early and have been working in good faith for seven months to reach a new agreement with Northside. We have given Northside a proposal with generous increases — one they could sign immediately — yet they have refused,” Gaines said. “Northside wishes to continue operating under a contract that will not achieve the affordability or quality improvements we have been seeking, and our members deserve. We’d like Northside to join us in focusing solely on reaching an agreement that is in the best interests of consumers.”

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