Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Contract Settled, Hospital’s Technology Gets Interest

By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published August 20, 2009

Not only has Saint Joseph’s Hospital come away from recent negotiations with UnitedHealthcare of Georgia with a suitable contract, but the exchange has spurred a growing interest in and appreciation for the hospital’s use of state-of-the-art, minimally invasive robotics.

The up-to-the-wire negotiations resulted in a new contract between Saint Joseph’s Hospital and UnitedHealthcare of Georgia that will remain in place for three years with escalators built in, said Deacon Bill Garrett, chief mission officer of Saint Joseph and president of Saint Joseph’s Mercy Foundation.

All factors were on the table during negotiations, he said, and despite the wrangling that often ensues, what’s best for patients is hopefully the end result.

“Hospital contracts are extremely complicated to negotiate with managed care companies. There are certainly good intentions on both sides.”

The challenge was to find a “creative solution” that would provide maximum benefits for patients, Deacon Garrett continued. In this instance with UnitedHealthcare of Georgia, “it just took awhile to reach one.”

Saint Joseph’s Hospital asked for and received a reimbursement increase from UnitedHealthcare of Georgia to cover procedures such as outpatient implants and robotics procedures that still represented an average 10 percent discount compared to similar rates found in the area’s other major hospitals. This discount reflects Saint Joseph’s nonprofit mission to provide patients with a high standard of quality care while delivering significant savings over other hospitals.

“We are delighted that the tens of thousands of UnitedHealthcare members in Georgia, including school teachers, state workers and large employers like Delta, Coca-Cola, AT&T and IBM, will continue to have access to the world-class physicians and healthcare facilities of Saint Joseph’s Hospital,” said Kirk Wilson, chief executive officer of Saint Joseph’s Hospital, in a press release announcing the new contract.

Saint Joseph is a worldwide leader in the use of robotics, said Deacon Garrett, who added that the CEO of UnitedHealthcare was to make a personal visit to the hospital that day to learn more about its robotics program.

During negotiations, Saint Joseph explained its new reimbursement structure as based, in part, on the impact minor invasive robotic procedures have on drastically shortening the length of a patient’s hospital stay, among other benefits.

“It was a different issue (than what most managed care companies encounter when negotiating with hospitals). UnitedHealthcare took a look at it and said, ‘Wow! This is a tremendous triumph for the patient.’”

With two robotics heart surgeons on staff, Saint Joseph is situated as an international leader in this field and has also begun to offer training programs for others interested in applying the new technology.