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What the Methodist Hospital-UnitedHealthcare dispute means for patients

The insurance company says the hospital is charging too much for services. The hospital says the insurance company is just trying to make money.

HOUSTON — There’s a big healthcare dispute happening in Houston right now after UnitedHealthcare announced its customers would no longer be able to get in-network medical treatment from Houston Methodist Hospital.

The insurance company says the hospital is charging too much for services. The hospital says the insurance company is just trying to make money.

Anna Coffey, CEO of the Women’s Center in Montrose, said she switched from Humana to UnitedHealthcare for herself and her 50 employees last year. Coffey said she was guaranteed they would be covered if they chose services from Houston Methodist Hospital.

“When we switched I had one question, ‘Is Methodist in network?’ and I was told, ‘Yes,’ Methodist is in network,’” Coffey said.

All of that changed.

“It was only a few months later that I learned Methodist would be out of network,” Coffey said. “So I feel it was a real bait and switch because they must’ve known at that point there was a possibility of a change.”

UnitedHealth Texas CEO Dave Milich said subscribers have been requesting a reduction in their premiums and only 7 percent of UHC subscribers utilize services through Houston Methodist Hospital.

“Many of our customers have come to us and said the cost go healthcare in the Houston area has become too expensive,” Milich said. “It’s a cost of doing business to them.”

He said when Methodist refused to reduce its prices, the insurance company’s subscribers could no longer afford to retain it as an in-network provider.

“What our customers are asking us to do is to help control the healthcare costs in the employee benefit programs they’re providing because again, any saving opportunities that are creating goes to their bottom line,” Milich said. "It doesn’t come to UnitedHealthcare as profit, it goes to our customer’s bottom line.”

“Every step of the way this has been about the patients for us, and the money for United,” Houston Methodist Hospital CEO Dr. Marc boom wrote an in email.

The hospital stands by its prices claiming its quality of care is unmatched. Methodist says it doesn’t foresee any changes in its operations due to the loss of United subscribers.

Coffey said this will be a disruption for herself and her employees that they hadn’t anticipated. She said she is already looking for a different provider.

“I understand the need to control healthcare costs,” Coffey said. “But we need to be guaranteed the highest quality of healthcare available.”

Certain individuals will not be affected by the change. Pregnant women and those with life threatening conditions will be able to continue their care with Houston Methodist.

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