We’re a close community here in the Lowcountry, where everyone knows and looks out for each other. This is why, as a member of Hilton Head Hospital’s governing board, I feel it’s important to call attention to an imminent threat to our community’s healthcare safety net – one that will very likely affect you or someone you know.

The Centene Corporation intends to restrict its members’ access to hospitals in numerous communities across the country, including ours. The Centene Corporation, which operates Absolute Total Care (a Medicaid plan), Ambetter for Absolute Total Care (a Health Insurance Marketplace plan), Wellcare (a Medicare plan), Wellcare by Allwell (a Medicare plan) and Wellcare Prime by Absolute Total Care (a Medicare-Medicaid plan for dually eligible people) has terminated its contract with Hilton Head Regional Healthcare.

That means that Hilton Head Hospital and its doctors will no longer be in network for members of the Centene health plans listed above starting Jan. 1, 2023.

Centene is cutting its members off from the Hilton Head Regional Healthcare system because hospitals like Hilton Head Hospital were unwilling to accept enormous rate cuts. In this economy, all hospitals and health systems are facing inflationary pressures and rising supply and labor costs, which make even the current payment rates unsustainable.

As vice chairman of Hilton Head Hospital’s governing board, I understand intimately how Centene’s proposed rate cuts, compounded with other economic forces, will impact the durability of our community hospital, its workforce and our larger healthcare infrastructure. The financial implications of this cut are a concern for me and the potential risk it creates for the services available to the people in our community.    

In our island town, 37% of our residents are 65 years or older, compared to 18.6% in South Carolina and 16.8% in the rest of the United States. Centene’s demand for rate reductions will severely impact the health of the senior population of our community, including myself, who require more immediate and regular access to care as we age.

Hilton Head Regional is the only hospital system offering full-service emergency care in Bluffton, Hardeeville and Hilton Head. The next closest is more than 30 minutes away. All of Hilton Head Regional’s ER locations are also advanced Primary Stroke Certified. And Hilton Head Regional is the only health system offering open heart surgery in the community. The next closest hospitals with these services are in Savannah or Charleston.

Centene’s business practices will restrict Hilton Head Hospital and providers’ ability to treat those who need local, community-based care the most.

We need Centene to agree to an arrangement that fairly compensates Hilton Head Regional Healthcare and keeps our healthcare infrastructure out of a serious financial situation.

Larry Sanders is currently vice chairman for the Governing Board for Hilton Head Hospital. He has served in numerous leadership position for local nonprofits, his church and his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi International.