WNY elected officials offer to mediate cancer care dispute

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Nearly 6 months after going their separate ways, the breakup of CCS Oncology and Independent Health has turned into a bitter feud, but the cancer treatment group is trying a new tact to get back together. CCS has enlisted the help of several elected officials to try to get the health insurer back to the bargaining table.

Independent Health refused to renew its contract with CCS Oncology, and the two officially parted company as of January 1, 2017. Independent Health has said their refusal to re-up with CCS was about containing costs, but when the two companies could not come to terms the cancer group sued Independent Health in federal court.

Since losing their contract with Independent Health, CCS Oncology executives concede they have lost many of their 2,600 cancer patients, who were advised to see other healthcare providers.

Dr. Sam Yi, CCS Oncology’s CEO, vehemently objected to his patients being told to seek care elsewhere, “and you should transfer your care to them. After trusting your life to these cancer doctors, how wrong that is.”

After setbacks in court, CCS Oncology held a Friday afternoon news conference with a number of Western New York elected officials to get the medical insurer to return to the bargaining table in a non-partisan way—including Republicans, a Democrat, and a Conservative.

Republican Assemblyman David DiPietro spoke in a conciliatory tone, “This is not about blame. This is about everyone reaching out and bringing these people together for one common cause, and that is the people of Western New York, who need you.”

Democrat Assemblyman Michael Kearns stood with CCS cancer patient Linda Boulange, “If this was your mother, if this was your sister, if this was your aunt, you would want the best possible service. You should not have to fight for your doctor when you are fighting for your life.”

Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava declined comment, but he did release a statement citing CCS Oncology’s lawsuit, and a subsequent motion by CCS for a preliminary injunction that a federal judge rejected.

The statement concluded, “Due to the lawsuit filed by CCS and Independent Health’s pending motion to dismiss the complaint, we cannot comment further.”

CCS cancer patient Linda Boulange, who is now cancer free, said she went with another healthcare insurer, choosing to cut Independent Health loose, rather than giving up on the care she received from CCS Oncology, “I can’t imagine the heartache for a patient to be told they can no longer continue with their doctor that you have trusted and confided in, to be told you cannot see that doctor anymore.”

Kearns and DiPietro announced they are appealing to the Commissioner of Financial Services, the department that regulates New York’s insurance industry, when they return to Albany next week. They will try to convince DFS not to take sides, but rather to mediate the dispute between CCS Oncology and Independent Health.

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