Premier Hmo Ordered Into Receivership

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Eighty-seven-year-old Jane Miller of Mesa del Caballo is worried about her medical bills. Her HMO, Premier Healthcare of Arizona, was ordered into receivership Tuesday by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge, forcing Miller and 800 other Premier members in Northern Gila County to switch HMOs -- again.


Last December, Miller dropped her HMO membership with Intergroup and joined hundreds of other dissatisfied seniors in signing up with Premier for Seniors with Healthcare of Arizona.


"I'm really disgusted right now," Miller said Thursday. The company promised to lower her medical bills, not leave her in limbo, she said.


The Arizona Department of Insurance is overseeing the transition of Premier's 70,000 members into other health plans.


Under a state-approved plan, Premiere will continue to provide health insurance coverage to its members, which include 20,000 members in its Medicare HMO, for at least 60 days.


Premier, which has had a history of financial losses since it began operating in the state in 1994, was acquired in March by a Tucson-based company, Mature Well, said Don Harris, public information officer with the Arizona Department of Insurance.


Harris said when Mature Well couldn't restore Premier's financial health, the state assumed control and turned it over to his department.


Premier lured clients into the Seniors with Healthcare program by offering them a variety of competitive benefits. Members weren't charged premiums or fees for inpatient hospitalization, and costs for prescription drugs and doctors' visits were kept low -- $4 for generic prescriptions and $5 for regular doctors' visits.


"It seems like they get you in, get you to sign up, and then do as they please," Miller said. She said she received a letter several weeks ago notifying her that her co-payments were being raised to $10 for doctors' visits and $8 for prescriptions.


"I was quite dissatisfied that they raised their prices," she said. "They did pay for my eye surgery in June, but I had to go down to the Valley."


Payson Regional Medical Center officials refused to sign a contract with Premier. Seniors who signed up with Premier last year did so knowing they would have to travel to Valley Lutheran and Mesa Lutheran Hospital in Mesa for regular care.


"These HMOs are going down the tubes," Miller said. "Of course, there are other companies merging with other companies. The whole world's upside down. It's very confusing."


Dr. Mark Ivey, president of Central Arizona Independent Providers Association, a group of 25 physicians and healthcare providers in northern Gila County who signed on with the company, said, "If anybody suffers, it'll be us. We are the ones who get paid. In this county, it has not been anywhere near as devastating as elsewhere in the state."


Doctors and other health care providers are obligated to continue providing services to Premier enrollees at contract rates, Harris said.


"Gila County has been paid, but not everything that has been owed," Ivey said. "We expect the Department of Insurance to see that those bills are paid. The doctors in Gila County will take care of patients no matter what they decide."

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