After an acrimonious contract fight where Blue Shield and Sutter Health where each accused the other of anti-consumer business practices, they have officially given the middle finger to their members and patients by signing a contract where the terms of the agreement are confidential. Regardless of how often Blue Shield and Sutter Health say the put people first, in the end they both agreed their profits were more important than any transparency to the health care system by agreeing to a confidential contract.
Blue Shield demonizes Sutter Health
On January 5th Blue Shield formally announced that they would be terminating the network relationship with Sutter Health in 2015. Blue Shield was telling 250,000 Californians they would have to find a doctor or use a hospital other than Sutter within months. Blue Shield went on to demonize Sutter Health for propagating a monopoly in Northern California, price gouging, and insisting on anti-competitive arbitration requirements. Sutter, in turn, launched a defense by accusing Blue Shield of fraudulently marketing their health insurance plan with Sutter providers and forcing rate increases of up to 23% on their members.
Sutter’s public relations ploy was to highlight the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship, “Few things are more important than the relationships patients have with their doctors, and our proposal [to Blue Shield] gives patients time to consider alternative health plan options for 2016,”. Both Sutter Health and Blue Shield spun their PR machines as if they were protecting their members and patients. While they may have the interests of the people in their heart, the paternalistic attitude that they know what is best for the patient is manifested in the Blue Shield statement announcing the 2015 contract, “While the specifics of the new contract are confidential, we are pleased to say that the existing legal rights of Blue Shield and our customers have been protected.”
Confidential = screw the consumer
Confidential means secret. It’s not good to keep secrets from the members and patients. Secret and confidential contract terms prevent people from making informed choices about their health care based on pricing information. Confidential contracts distort the market place so that consumers are put at a disadvantage. Confidential contracts help the sellers play games and increase their profits at the expense of consumers. Confidential contracts create a conspiracy of silence between the parties.
Blue Shield and Sutter really don’t care
Blue Shield and Sutter Health essentially told their members that their entire PR about honoring their consumers was a lie. A real contract would provide transparency to their health care pricing system. The confidential contract really means that Blue Shield doesn’t care if Sutter Health is monopoly and Sutter Health doesn’t care if Blue Shield jacks up their rates over 20%. The winners are Blue Shield and Sutter Health who get to keep their margins intact. The losers, as usual, are the consumers of health care services in California.