Pinellas leaders urge warring health care factions to resolve differences

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Representing more than 17,000 constituents of both Baycare Health and United Healthcare, Pinellas County Commissioners, along with local government and business leaders convened to call on the two health care companies to stop their sick bickering.

"Right now we're not taking sides on this," said Commission Chair John Morroni, "because we would like to see them come together."

It's an unhealthy squabble that has left many, especially those in the northern part of the county, with limited access to the region's largest hospital system.

"We Implore United Healthcare and Baycare Health System to agree to adhere to the following statement of principles, and responsible actions," he said, reading from an open letter to the health care companies' leadership. 

The letter urges both sides to exercise corporate responsibility and good stewardship, put aside selfish interests, end polarization and intransigence and come together in good faith to resolve differences in the public interest.  In other words:  Figure this thing out.

"We believe that they ought to be conducting a good-faith negotiation, and not take us all over a cliff," said County Administrator Robert LaSala.

The folks who lined up to show their solidarity to put pressure on United Healthcare, who insists that Baycare's 22-percent hike in cost to employer-sponsored plans is unreasonable, and on Baycare, whose contention that its owed more than $11 million by United admit this is pretty much symbolic.  But they are also looking at taking their business elsewhere.

"And if they can't get it right, then we're going to have to make some very hard decisions," bottom-lined Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Those decisions could include paying more money for the out-of-network compromised coverage or changing carriers.  That is something no one here hopes has to happen.

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