DALTON, Ga. - Hospitals in Whitfield and Murray counties and a doctors' group announced Friday they will begin accepting BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia insurance plans, a move county officials say will provide a better economic sell for companies looking to locate in the area.
Negotiations to add additional insurance groups as in-network providers in the counties have been under way since 2009.
The deal affects Hamilton Medical Center and Murray Medical Center. The change will go into effect Nov. 1.
Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said officials first heard about the agreement between Hamilton Health Care System, Inc. and Physicians Health Services and BlueCross Thursday evening, and finals details were ironed out Friday.
Hamilton Health Care System, which includes both hospitals, and Physicians Health Services, which is centered in Whitfield, came under fire in 2009 when patients and business leaders complained that providers would accept only a single insurance plan, Alliant, offered by Health One Alliance, according to Times Free Press archives.
Physicians Health Services and Hamilton Medical Center jointly own Health One Alliance, a nonprofit insurance company that doctors created in the 1990s to offer an insurance option for local businesses.
Local residents without the Alliant plan had to travel to other hospitals instead of paying higher out-of-network costs at Hamilton.
Last year, Whitfield County government switched its employee plan to BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia, which has saved the county $1.5 million in the last year, Babb said, but forced employees to go out of the county for medical care.
Many small business owners also offer plans that were not accepted at Hamilton, Babb said.
While being able to offer county employees in-county medical services is a plus, Babb said the greatest advantage to the new deal will be economic development.
"To be able to say our hospital and doctors accepts multiple insurance providers is a great economic recruitment tool," Babb said. "It puts us on a level playing field when we try to bring in businesses."
In a new release, the groups said BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia members will be able to access a full range of acute care, emergency, diagnostic and surgical services as in-network providers.
"I am very pleased that the completion of this agreement expands choices to BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia members who live or work in Whitfield and Murray counties," said Jeff Myers, CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, in a news release.