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Northeast Georgia Health System, UnitedHealthCare reach agreement
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After months of negotiations stalled last week, Northeast Georgia Health System and insurance provider UnitedHealthcare have reached a multiyear agreement, the two organizations announced Saturday.

As of Wednesday, United policyholders were considered out-of-network for all of the health system’s facilities, including Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The impasse left thousands in the area concerned about their ability to get affordable local medical care.

The new contract is retroactive to Wednesday to cover all medical expenses within the network.

The organizations had been in negotiations for more than eight months.

“We’ve worked diligently to finalize the details of a new agreement that is mutually beneficial for all involved, most importantly our patients, and improves the overall health of the community we serve,” Sean Couch, public relations manager at NGHS, said in a news release.

“Northeast Georgia Health System is an important provider of health care services in this area, and our renewed relationship strengthens our joint commitment to provide quality, cost-effective health care for UnitedHealthcare plan participants near where they live and work,” Rick Elliott, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual of Georgia, said in the release.

The deal covers all of the health system’s facilities, which includes the medical center, Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, urgent care locations, Imaging Center, The Rehabilitation Institute and the medical center hospice.

“We believe our renewed relationship with UnitedHealthcare strengthens our ability to improve the coordination of care in the future, secures top quality care for our patients and allows us to serve UnitedHealthcare plan customers in our community in the same manner that we have for many years,” Couch said in the release.

The stalled negotiations largely affected local school employees whose insurance plan was provided by United. Some 75 to 80 percent of the Hall County school system’s 3,600 employees are with United, spokesman Gordon Higgins said last week.

Sherry McElroy, Gainesville City Schools benefits coordinator, said last week about 80 percent of the city school system’s employees are with United.

Last week, Hall school board chairman Nath Morris said he had been receiving phone calls from employees asking if there was anything the board could do.

“We do have our employees calling us asking what we are doing,” Morris said Friday. “Well, we’re kind of on the sidelines.”

The school board had planned to discuss the impasse at its scheduled meeting Monday.

The Georgia Department of Community Health which oversees the state benefit plan, was not involved in the contract negotiations.

Staff members Keith Albertson and Lee Johnson contributed to this story.

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