HCA, UnitedHealthcare wrangle over fees

A massive contract dispute between two of the healthcare industry's giants--HCA and UnitedHealthcare--has left thousands of patients in Colorado and Florida in limbo. United Healthcare says HCA is charging the insurer too much for its services; HCA disagrees, saying it just wants a fair level of reimbursement. Talks between the two sides broke down earlier this week just as the contracts expired and now 500,000 patients in those states must find a way to deal with the change while HCA and UnitedHealthcare try to work things out. Meanwhile, both HCA and UnitedHealthcare are trying to convince their customers to put pressure on the other side. "It's very important to get the public and employers on your side, whether you're the health plan or the hospital company," noted one Bear Stearns analyst. "So it's in each of these companies' best interest to portray the disagreement as they want it to be seen."

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