Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi sue UMMC employees for defamation

Published 5:34 pm Thursday, July 28, 2022

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi on Thursday said it was suing three employees of the University of Mississippi Medical Center for allegedly spreading false information.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a dispute between the state’s largest health insurance provider and the hospital that surfaced in March when the two sides failed to reach an agreement over how much the insurer would pay for patient care.

At the time the insurer said it had been working with the medical center to renew the contract with the network’s hospitals since early 2021 but that UMMC was requiring significant payment increases. The medical center said it asked to be funded at the level of comparable academic medical centers in other regional cities.

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UMMC is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, filed in Rankin County, because it has immunity for defamation committed by its employees as a political subdivision of the state under Mississippi law, according to a press release from the insurer announcing the lawsuit. But, the employees — Dr. LouAnn Woodward, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for health affairs; Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs; and Marc Rolph, executive director of communications and marketing — don’t have those safeguards, the insurer said.

In the lawsuit, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi alleges the employees’ public statements have made it appear that the insurer dropped UMMC from its health care provider network when the insurer says it was UMMC that ended its agreements with the insurer , WJTV reported.

The complaint contends the public statements have harmed the insurer’s reputation and were made to “coerce Blue Cross & Blue Shield into entering into new contracts to benefit UMMC and the defendants’ personal positions with UMMC.” The provider said the defendants’ actions also have caused “unnecessary anxiety, confusion and fear” to its members regarding their health care, according to the statement.

“When UMMC chose to no longer be a network provider, Blue Cross & Blue Shield made it clear it would continue to pay network level benefits for covered medical services,” the company said.

Rolph declined comment when asked for a statement from UMMC about the lawsuit.