Health First drops Humana Medicare Advantage, frustrating Brevard plan holders

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. —

A Palm Bay man said he's being forced to drop his health insurance for a Brevard County company.

When Joe Curley retired from Ford Motor Company in New Jersey he did what so many before him had done, he moved to Florida. Joe, a Palm Bay resident, uses his benefits through the UAW to maintain health care coverage for he and his wife, Patricia.

For the last several years their coverage has been through Humana, but not any longer.

"Now we have to drop them because of this Health First," Curley said. "It don't seem fair."

Joe and his wife Patricia received a letter from Health First Medical Group in August informing them that Health First and its chain of hospitals and clinics in southern Brevard County would no longer be accepting Humana.

The letter from Health First directed the Curley's to one of its Medicare Advantage plans, suggesting the Curleys change coverage.

Health First operates Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne and Palm Bay Hospital, the two closest hospitals to the Curleys.

"It was much simpler, with paying bills and the whole thing," says Patricia Curley, "They (Humana) were a good company, I'd call them and get a person to talk to."

In early October, after several calls to Health First and Humana, the Curleys decided to drop Humana and go with Health First, an added cost since the plan is outside of Joe's UAW benefits package.

"It's going to be a strain on us," said Curley. "We had no other choice, it was too far to go anywhere else."

Stories like the Curleys are at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Florida. The lawsuit, filed by a group of Brevard County doctors, alleges that Health First has maintained a monopoly by intimidating physicians or otherwise obstructing their ability to practice medicine in southern Brevard County.

A 2012 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that, "increases in hospital market concentration lead to increases in the price of hospital care."

The Foundation, which studies health and healthcare, cited as part of its report, "The magnitude of price increases when hospitals merge in concentrated markets is typically quite large, most exceeding 20 percent."

Health First released the following statement to Channel 9:

"Despite government regulations driving up health care costs nationwide, Health First Medical Group is always evaluating ways to partner with our local health insurance plans so that we can continue to provide the high quality health care to the members of our community."

"The decision to end our agreement with only Humana’s Medicare Advantage plans was mutual-- and was made by both Humana and Health First Medical Group leaders. All Health First facilities and its Medical Group continue to accept commercial Humana plans. "

"Health First is committed to the continued health and wellness of the communities we serve."