Ascension Providence and Baylor Scott & White Health Plan have agreed to stick together at least through 2020, to the relief of some area employees who had faced a one-hospital future.

Ascension Providence in June announced without explanation that it would end its contract with Baylor Scott & White Health Plan on Sept. 1.

Those insured under the plan, including many McLennan County employees, would have lost their in-network status at Ascension Providence health facilities, including the hospital on State Highway 6.

But a posting on the Ascension website says the contract has been extended through December 2020. Ascension spokeswoman Danielle Hall said Monday she was pursuing additional information to provide the Tribune-Herald, and probably would have more to say this week.

McLennan County officials had been notified of the extension in time to include the Scott & White Health Plan in the open enrollment for employees, which just wrapped up.

“We have been assured that an agreement is in place between Scott & White Health Plan and Ascension at least through December 2020,” said RoseMary Mayes, a consultant who advises county employees on health insurance options. “It may go beyond that, but for now, that is the commitment,” Mayes said in an interview.

McLennan County is self-insured and pays employees’ medical claims, while Scott & White Health Plan serves as the county’s third-party administrator.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said county officials were relieved at news of the extension. He said the county likes to offer employees as many options as possible in choosing health care coverage. He said the county subsidizes coverage, viewing health insurance as an employee benefit.

Mayes said the extension may have been prompted by “blowback” Ascension received upon announcing it would sever its relationship with Baylor Scott & White Health Plan. She said it also is important to note that the current budget year, which began Oct. 1, is the third in a three-year contract between the county and Scott & White Health Plan. She said governmental entities typically enter into three-year contracts on such plans to ensure that premiums will not fluctuate dramatically, and to secure all available fee discounts.

The county, she said, is poised to solicit proposals on a new contract when the timing is right, a decision to be made by McLennan County Commissioners Court acting on a recommendation by the county’s insurance committee.

Ascension Providence has become the official name of the former Providence Healthcare Network, which has roots in Waco going back more than a century. Providence long has fallen under the umbrella of Ascension, a nonprofit health system operating more than 2,000 care sites around the country.

Scott & White Health Plan has an estimated 220,000 members in 80 counties in Central, West and North Texas, according to information on its website. It also has bought Austin-based FirstCare Health Plans, with a presence in 143 counties, most in West Texas. That buyout became effective Jan. 1.

In Texas, Ascension also operates Ascension Seton, which includes Dell Children’s Medical Center and Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin.

The contract termination was to affect only Ascension Providence.

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