‘Demonstrably false’ | Insurance provider files defamation suit against UMMC

'Demonstrably false' |  Insurance provider files defamation suit against UMMC
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FLOWOOD, Miss. (WLBT) – A major insurance provider is suing the state’s only level one trauma hospital, asking the courts to block what they say are the hospital’s “conspiratorial efforts” designed to defame them.

Thursday, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi filed suit in Rankin County Chancery Court against the University of Mississippi Medical Center seeking an injunction against the hospital’s employees for “initiating and continuing a far-reaching public relations campaign designed to disseminate false and defamatory statements about Blue Cross to the public.”

According to the complaint, the campaign was designed to damage Blue Cross’ reputation and force the company into a new agreement that the insurer argues would benefit UMMC.

Earlier this week, Jackson Jambalaya reported that UMMC had spent nearly $279,000 on ads attacking Blue Cross.

The suit comes months after UMMC dropped Blue Cross from its network of insurance providers after UMMC said the provider refused to raise its reimbursements closer to “fair-market” values.

The contract between the two entities ended on March 31. However, UMMC allowed patients with specific ongoing medical conditions to be covered through July 1.

Blue Cross announced it had filed suit in a press release Thursday. UMMC employees named in the following include Dr. LouAnn Woodward, Dr. Alan Jones, Marc Rolph, and other unnamed employees.

“The central contentions in these employees’ public statements and media campaign are that [Blue Cross] terminated its contracts with UMMC and thus ‘forced,’ ‘dropped,’ ‘removed,’ ‘eliminated’ and ‘excluded’ UMMC from BCBSMS’ healthcare provider network and that by doing so BCBSMS is preventing Blue Cross Blue Shield Members from receiving medical care from UMMC,” the release states.

“In reality, UMMC voluntarily terminated its agreements with BCBSMS. On January 28, 2022, Dr. Woodward notified BCBSMS that UMMC was terminating all of its Professional Provider Network Agreements between BCBSMS and UMMC’s physicians, nurse practitioners, and other allied providers effective March 31,” the release goes on to state.

Woodward is Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice-chancellor and dean of the University Medical Center.

We reached out to Marc Rolph, executive director of the hospital’s office of communications and marketing, and he declined to comment.

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Previously, UMMC argued that Blue Cross had been underpaying UMMC by tens of millions of dollars a year for years.

“We are disappointed that Blue Cross doesn’t value the Medical Center enough to agree to a fair contract and keep us in its network. We know that patients are disheartened and frustrated,” Woodward said in April. “We must – for the health and wellness of all Mississippians – stand firm in our resolve that Blue Cross should agree to pay us at fair market rates.”

According to the suit, Blue Cross and UMMC attempted to negotiate new network terms in 2021 and early 2022.

While UMMC argued reimbursements needed to be raised to fair-market, Blue Cross argues hospital officials “demanded significant, unrealistic payment increases across all hospital service areas, contending that it and its physicians, nurse practitioners, and other allied providers should be paid at rates substantially higher than other network hospitals… throughout the state.”

BCBSMS argues that hospital officials began their campaign against the provider even before their contract ended in March.

UMMC posted this to their Facebook page days before its contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield...
UMMC posted this to their Facebook page days before its contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield expired.(WLBT)

“Defendants’ false media campaign continued after UMMC’s termination of the professional provider network agreements and the expiration of the network hospital agreements,” the suit contends. “Indeed, defendants’… statements published on the internet, in interviews, on billboards, on social media posts, in correspondence with Blue Cross Members, and in other public statements have been widespread and continuous up to the date of commencing this civil stock.”

Blue Cross is asking the court to hold named and unnamed employees individually liable for damages, which would be determined during a trial. It also is asking for legal fees and for a permanent injunction against future communications about Blue Cross.

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