Wellstar, UnitedHealthcare reach deal on new contract

·2 min read

Jun. 27—Nearly nine months after their previous contract lapsed, UnitedHealthcare and Wellstar Health System have reached a new, multi-year agreement that restores network access to Wellstar services for United enrollees. The contract, which takes effect July 1, was announced in a joint statement on Monday.

"We know how important it is for patients to have local access to high-quality care from the doctors and hospitals they know and trust," said Candice Saunders, president and CEO of Wellstar Health System, in the statement. "This agreement will offer expanded access and more convenient options for patients with UnitedHealthcare insurance."

Some 80,000 United members lost in-network rates at Wellstar facilities when a previous contract between the insurance giant and the Marietta-based hospital system lapsed on Oct. 3 of last year. Under the new agreement people enrolled in United's employer-sponsored, individual and Medicare Advantage plans will once again receive in-network rates at Wellstar.

The agreement also expands access to Wellstar Clinical Partners, the system's clinically integrated network, along with skilled nursing facilities, home health and hospice care.

United members can begin scheduling appointments with Wellstar today through MyChart or by calling their clinician's office, the two parties said. For more information, call 770-956-STAR (7827).

"The care that Wellstar provides to our members is important and personal to them," said Junior Harewood, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Georgia, in the announcement. "Our top priority throughout this negotiation has been ensuring the people and employers we're honored to serve in Georgia have access to quality, more affordable health care, and this new agreement helps accomplish that goal."

Throughout negotiations, before and after the previous contract lapsed, United and Wellstar waged a publicity war over the dispute, with both sides accusing the other of prioritizing cash flow over care. Caught in the middle were patients and employers who had to pay higher rates, seek care elsewhere, change insurance providers or postpone appointments as talks dragged on.

United last fall contended that Wellstar sought "egregious" rate increases which would make them the most expensive hospital network in metro Atlanta, increasing care costs by some $75 million in the first year alone.

Wellstar at the same time said United was untrusted by patients, had been "woefully underpaying" for healthcare, and contrasted its own nonprofit status with United — a publicly-traded firm which turned a $22 billion profit in 2020.