Blue Cross Blue Shield negotiations could leave students, faculty with less medical access

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

The new year typically brings renewed benefits for insurance holders, but Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas policy holders may see their in-network medical access decrease by the end of the month.

BCBSTX is currently in negotiations with Ascension Seton over proposed rate increases. If an agreement isn’t reached by Jan. 31, Ascension medical facilities will exit the network for users — including University student and faculty insurance holders — according to a BCBSTX representative. Medicaid and some Medicare users will still have access to the facilities regardless of negotiations.

“Ascension is asking for price increases that are higher than we think are reasonable,” the BCBSTX webpage said on the negotiations. “We value our relationship with Ascension, but it’s also important that the contracts we agree to are fair for our members and the local businesses we serve.”

While Ascension suffered inflation-related financial and staffing losses, their Texas operations remain profitable according to a BCBSTX press release from Jan. 12. Ascension operates over 20 surgery centers and medical facilities throughout Texas, including the University’s Dell Seton Medical Center.

Ascension medical professionals will remain in the network until either May or June. Until then, BCBSTX said they would work with Ascension-employed doctors to provide services and reschedule appointments at in-network hospitals.

Miriam Jaime, a public health senior and health care equality student group Partners In Health member, said a change to network availability affects patients’ quality of care. Seeking out a new doctor means developing a new patient-professional relationship, transferring paperwork, accommodating previously scheduled surgeries and navigating language barriers.

“Students and faculty including international students aren’t going to have the easy access they originally had,” Jaime said. “The best thing possible would be for Ascension to stay in all the (BCBSTX) networks.”

Biology junior Amanda Castillo said because she values the breadth of services available in the student health insurance plan, the possibility of either rate increases or limited medical access leaves her feeling powerless as a policyholder.

“I’m still grateful to have the health insurance because I did go for so long with nothing (in terms of insurance),” Castillo said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see and hope nothing goes wrong.”

Without confirmation of whether or not an agreement will be reached, Jaime said policy holders may feel stuck between their insurance and care provider.

“These people who are paying for their insurance are now in limbo because they don’t know what’s gonna happen within the next two weeks,” Jaime said.

Ascension Texas said in a statement that it is working with BCBSTX to reach reasonable and updated contract terms.

“Ascension Texas is committed to building healthy communities and providing access to quality, affordable health care services for all those we are privileged to serve,” the statement said.