UnitedHealthcare adds Via Christi

UnitedHealthcare is adding a key area provider to its insurance network following a Thursday announcement that it and Via Christi Health have reached a new agreement that takes effect Saturday.

The agreement gives United's commercial health plan customers access to some Via Christi services beginning in January.

In September, the contract will expand to cover all Via Christi services and facilities.

The initial services to be covered include medical services provided at Via Christi Medical Associates — a group of primary care physicians and mid-level practitioners — and Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital, specified burn care, and CyberKnife and cochlear implant procedures.

Wichita Clinic, a 160-physician-member group that was acquired by Via Christi this month, already was a contracted provider for United.

United officials were not available for comment Thursday, according to spokesman Greg Thompson. Thompson deferred questions to Via Christi officials.

"Our new network relationship with Via Christi Health gives our customers greater access to high-quality medical facilities and skilled physicians closer to where they live and work," Bill Tracy, president and CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Kansas, said in a news release. "Via Christi Health is an important provider of health care services in the area. We believe this agreement strengthens our shared commitment to deliver broader access to quality, affordable health care for consumers."

Via Christi spokesman Mike McLaughlin said the state's largest health system — and operator of three Wichita hospitals — has not had a contract with UnitedHealthcare in at least the past six years.

The reason that not all Via Christi services and facilities will be immediately covered is because United has to first complete exclusive contracts with other providers, he said.