Clearwater, Florida -- Big political pressure is nowbeing put on two local healthcare giants.
Talks between United HealthCare and BayCare Health System have been going nowhere as hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay area are caught in the middle.
Pinellas County, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office and several cities have employees who depend on United HealthCare for their insurance and BayCare for their healthcare providers. Tens of thousands of people.
Today, representatives from the governmental agencies gathered to urge bothcompanies to put aside their "selfish interests" and figure it out.
Gerry Coleman used to be the sheriff in Pinellas County.But at 73 he's now retired, and like many, has long-established relationships with his healthcare providers.
"I cannot afford to change," said Coleman.
He and tens of thousands in the Bay area are now feeling the financial impact of an ongoing rift between United Healthcare and BayCare Health systems.
Without switching doctors, Coleman will have to part with more cash.
"I'll pay out of network. Not gonna change - you know, going into your eighties, you can't just change," he said.
That's precisely why political leaders with the Pinellas County Commission, City of St. Pete, Pinellas Sheriff's Office and more,implored the two companies to get back to the negotiating table.
"This is personal and extremely difficult for our impacted employees, their families, and the people who are covered in this community," Pinellas County Commission Chair John Morroni.
The panel says it's not taking sides, but they're also not beyond applying pressure.
BayCare, for example, would not want to get on the County's bad side.They rely on the commission to approve business proposals and contracts.
"I hope that we don't get that far that we have a strained relationship," said Morroni.
And United HealthCare could lose tens of thousands of clients. Lucrative contracts with government agencies like the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"If they can't resolve this," said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, "we are going to explore whether we stay with UHC."
The politicians point out that everyone has an interest in seeing the dispute settled, because the millions of dollars in higher, out-of network costs borne by city and county governments will be passed along to taxpayers.
For now, though, there's little reason to be hopeful.
United Healthcare, releasing a statement today said they "...have not had meaningful discussions since the contract terminated."
And BayCare responded by adding: "We will keep an open mind and open channels of communication and will work towards resolution. However, we are not optimistic we can resolve our differences in the near future."
Neither UHC nor BayCare had a representative present at today's meeting.