Health Care

Coventry: Goal is to keep best of PHS

Coventry Health Care of Kansas will work to incorporate the best of Preferred Health Systems' practices and products, should the sale of PHS go through, executives of both companies said Monday.

That includes strengthening Coventry's relationship with Via Christi Health and working out the issues that providers are having with MHNet, Coventry's plan administrator for mental health benefits, said Michael Murphy, president and CEO of Coventry Health Care of Kansas.

His comments came during a public forum on Coventry's planned acquisition of PHS. About 80 people attended the forum, held by the Kansas Insurance Department.

At its conclusion, Commissioner Sandy Praeger said she had no time frame for making a decision on the sale, which also is being examined by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Kansas Attorney General's Office. Both had representatives at the forum.

Three of the 11 people who spoke were mental health providers who were concerned about MHNet's failure to deal with claims in a timely fashion. Murphy said Coventry is aware of the issue and is working to resolve it.

He said PHS's mental health benefits system would continue as it is, at least through 2010, as will other PHS products and contracts.

"A year from now, I don't anticipate it being much different than it is today," he said.

It's too soon to get specific about what would happen in future years, he said, but the intent is to merge the two companies in a way that preserves the strengths of each.

Three other speakers were insurance brokers. Two favored the sale, saying it would increase competition in the local market. The third was concerned about losing a choice.

Kevin Conlin, president and CEO of Via Christi Health, said that the sale would make PHS stronger financially and that Coventry's offer was one of "multiple bids" that had been considered.

Other speakers were concerned about more individual issues, such as policies for those with pre-existing conditions or referrals to physical therapists.

Murphy and Conlin said they expect PHS to continue operating much as it is now. PHS senior vice president and chief operating officer Brad Clothier will continue in that position, they said.

Clothier said the sale would result in an insurance company better positioned to serve Kansans, with more product options.

The sale of PHS to Coventry was announced in early October; both parties said they expected it to be completed in 90 to 120 days.

Friday, Praeger will conduct a more formal fact-finding hearing from 1 to 3 p.m. in the CAC Theater at Wichita State University. She said her office also will accept written testimony until Dec. 23.