published Monday, January 27th, 2014

Erlanger gets boost from Affordable Care Act signups

The Erlanger Baroness campus.
The Erlanger Baroness campus.
Photo by Staff File Photo.
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A strategic partnership forged last year between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Erlanger Health System is beginning to show fruit, a breakdown of local enrollees through the new health insurance marketplace indicates.

A majority of Chattanoogans signing up for BlueCross health coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges on HealthCare.gov are opting to be a part of Network E -- a new, more limited network in which Erlanger is the only hospital provider, according to figures released by the hospital system and confirmed by BlueCross.

More than 3,100 of the new BlueCross enrollees chose that network out of the three plans offered on the exchange. Approximately 1,622 picked Network S. Network P has so far attracted the fewest subscribers -- just 98.

BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Danielson confirmed the enrollment figures were accurate through Jan. 14.

Erlanger Health System is a part of all three networks. Memorial Health Care System is a part of networks S and P, and Parkridge is included in Network P.

Officials said the five-year agreement to make Erlanger the exclusive "Network E" hospital in Chattanooga was designed to boost the number of paying patients at Erlanger while limiting the costs of care for BlueCross and its members.

Erlanger Chief Financial Officer Britt Tabor said the numbers bode well for the public hospital, which provided $85 million in uncompensated care last year -- although it remains unclear how many of those enrolling were previously uninsured compared to those switching insurance plans.

Even more encouraging, Tabor said, was the data that showed 40 percent of those signing up for Network E picked plans with a zero deductible -- meaning those 40 percent of the new patients' bills should be reimbursed fully by the insurance company.

"The fear about the exchanges has been that people would just buy high-deductible plans for the low premiums, and that they just wouldn't pay their bills because of how high the deductible is. That would just translate to bad debt for the hospital," he said. "But that 40 percent is good news."

BlueCross -- which is the only insurer to offer plans through the health exchanges in all 95 Tennessee counties -- accounted for an estimated 86 percent of new enrollees on the new marketplace from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28, the company announced last week.

The Chattanooga-based insurer attracted more than 31,000 of the 36,000 Tennesseans who enrolled last year.

Of the total number of BlueCross enrollees last year, 12 percent were from the Chattanooga region. Approximately 30 percent were from the Nashville region, followed by the Knoxville region with 18 percent, and Memphis with 12 percent.

In Tennessee, four health insurance companies will offer plans on the exchanges -- with just BlueCross and Cigna Healthcare offering plans in the Chattanooga area.

Cigna's Chattanooga-specific enrollment numbers were not available Friday.

There are just two months left in the enrollment push for ACA plans, as the March 31 deadline looms.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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