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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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MWHC official: Anthem split more likely

Updating the Mary Washington-Anthem contract dispute.

A Mary Washington Healthcare official said tonight that the company is preparing for a split with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield after an unsuccessful negotiating session today.

“It does appear more and more likely that we may indeed be out of network Jan. 1,” said Eric Fletcher, senior vice president for marketing and communications.

Fletcher offered the somber assessment after three Mary Washington officials traveled to Richmond this morning for an hour-long meeting with Anthem representatives.

Sean Barden, executive vice president and chief financial officer, led the Mary Washington contingent. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides. All prior contract talks had gone through a consultant hired by Mary Washington.

“The whole thing about talking directly didn’t make that big a difference,” Fletcher said.

Mary Washington officials continue to describe Anthem as intransigent. As Fletcher said, “We need Anthem to be willing to negotiate, and at this point, they’re not.”

An Anthem spokesman could not be reached for comment tonight. In the past, Anthem officials have said they’re willing to increase reimbursement rates for Mary Washington but have resisted the kind of double-digit increases that it seeks.

Mary Washington notified Anthem in September that it intended to leave the Anthem provider network at the end of the year. Such a move could be bad news for Anthem-insured patients. Mary Washington promises to minimize the effects of a breach, though patients typically pay lower, negotiated rates when a provider is part of an insurer’s network.