By Bobby Harrison
At least one positive in the current dispute between insurance company BlueCross & BlueShield and private hospital company Health Management Associates is a rare glimpse of bipartisanship in the state.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood – often at odds – are joining forces to try to force Blue Cross to reinstate 10 HMA hospitals across the state, including Gilmore in Amory, to its network.
Bryant issued an executive order to force BlueCross to reinstate the hospitals and Hood is defending in court the governor’s authority to undertake such a bold move. Among the entities opposing Bryant’s effort is Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney
Chaney’s main contention is that the governor is usurping his authority and wading off in an area where he has little or no expertise.
The make matters even a little more interesting is that thus far Bryant’s efforts to force BlueCross to reinstate the hospitals is being blocked by U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi, an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan.
While Wingate is trying to determine whether BlueCross’s actions hinder health case access for its policyholders, at the very core the dispute is centered around money. HMA, a giant Florida-based company, wants Blue Cross, a behemoth Mississippi mutual insurance company, to reimburse its hospitals at a higher rate for the services they provide to patients insured through BlueCross.
Ultimately, unless something dramatic happens, the issues will be worked out by the courts.
What may be of more interest is the dynamics of Hood defending Bryant’s right to intervene in the dispute and essentially to trump the elected insurance commissioner and even order the commissioner to undertake certain actions.
In the 1990s when then-Attorney General Mike Moore filed his lawsuit against the tobacco companies, that effort was opposed by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice. And more recently, then-Gov. Haley Barbour and his appointees opposed Hood’s lawsuit against drug manufacturers, whom he accused of overcharging for drugs provided to Mississippi Medicaid recipients.
In each instance, the elected AG persevered with the lawsuit despite opposition from the state’s chief executive officer – the governor.
Has Hood had a change of heart about the role of the governor in terms of influencing actions of other statewide officeholders?
Hood says no. He said the difference between the attorney general and the insurance commissioner is that his office is “a constitutional” position. Besides the office of governor and lieutenant governor, the posts and the duties of attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer are spelled out in the Constitution. Such is not the case for the two other statewide elected posts – insurance commissioner and agriculture and commerce commissioner.
For instance, recently elected Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith had to make a decision about whether to try to prevent a building under her authority from being rented for the purpose of a same-gender commitment ceremony. While she disagreed with the ceremony, she ultimately allowed it to take place because to do otherwise most likely would have violated U.S. constitutional protections, such as the right to assembly
What if the governor had objected and issued an executive order to stop the ceremony?
Or what about the issue of transportation? State highways are under the supervision of a three-member elected commission. What if the governor was not satisfied with the priority of the commission and felt its actions or inaction were creating an emergency? Could the governor issue an executive order to take over highway construction or maintenance?
Those are just some issues for the new Hood-Bryant alliance to ponder. Who knows where that alliance could lead.
» Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 353-3119.