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Blue Cross Blue Shield and Tufts Medical Center agree to resume talking

Tufts Medical Center and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts agreed yesterday to resume contract talks with the help of an unnamed third party.

In a joint statement released last night, the hospital and insurer said they “are committed to reaching agreement on a new contract. Leadership of the organizations have spoken today and agreed to continue discussions and use a third party during this process.’’

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“Both organizations are dedicated to negotiating a contract that ensures our members and patients can continue their relationships with their doctors and their health plan,’’ the statement said.

Tufts and its doctors’ group said on Tuesday that they will stop doing business with Blue Cross on Jan. 17 because the two sides cannot agree on a new contract. If no deal is reached, tens of thousands of Blue Cross members could be forced to change doctors and employers across Massachusetts could consider switching to another insurer.

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Blue Cross disclosed the termination notice as it prepared to send letters to about 55,000 employers and other customers alerting them to the Tufts threat, which came as increasingly tense negotiations stalled Monday.

Both parties said they have agreed in principle to a contract that would give the hospital and doctors in the Tufts network annual increases of about 3 percent, less than what they wanted. But they remain at odds over Blue Cross’ insistence on restricting how Tufts can direct payments. The medical-care provider wants more money to go to the hospital, while Blue Cross wants to boost doctors working under its global payment plan, which it has been pushing as a way to slow the rise in health care costs by putting providers on a budget.

Before the sides agreed to resume talks, Tufts ran an advertisement in yesterday’s Globe making its case directly to patients, and encouraging them to “call Blue Cross and ask why they’re not supporting us.’’

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.
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