Intermountain Health Care, Salt Lake City, pledged to sue fewer patients for unpaid bills and provide greater access to outside providers as part of a continuing effort to quell criticism over its market dominance. The 19-hospital system said it would cut interest rates on payment plans and promised not to take patients to court without evidence of fraud or a simple unwillingness to pay. At the request of the medical community, Intermountain also agreed to offer a new PPO this year that would allow all qualified providers to participate and said it would stop leasing its physician network to other insurers next year.
The changes follow passage in March of legislation creating a task force to study Intermountain's effect on the state healthcare market, a measure that replaced at least two more drastic bills aimed at Intermountain. One bill would have forced Intermountain to divest its 450,000-member IHC Health Plans. The other would have required the not-for-profit company to pay a 3% tax on its annual gross revenue, roughly $100 million a year. When the substitution bill was introduced, Intermountain signed a memorandum of understanding to open its books, policies and practices to the task force. The company operates 52% of acute-care beds in Utah and is the state's largest commercial insurer with 49% of members. -- by Laura B. Benko