WINCHESTER — After several months of often tense negotiations, Valley Health System and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Virginia have agreed to a new contract.

The new contract gives Anthem insurance customers uninterrupted, in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services through 2023.

“We recognize negotiations have been stressful for our patients and are pleased to bring this matter to a close,” Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz said in a joint news release on Tuesday. “We appreciate Anthem’s trust in Valley Health as their partner and their willingness to make the investment in high-quality health care for their members.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield President Jeff Ricketts said in the release: “We value this continued partnership with Valley as we work together to tackle the current pandemic and improve lives and communities here in Virginia.”

Valley Health is a Winchester-based health-care provider that operates six hospitals in the region, including Winchester Medical Center. Anthem is the largest insurer in Virginia.

In September, Valley Health announced that negotiations to renew its contract with Anthem were at an impasse. If a deal could not be reached by Dec. 31, an estimated 40,000 people with Anthem or related Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance policies would have been charged higher, out-of-network rates at all Valley Health facilities starting Jan. 1.

Details of the new contract were not disclosed, and Valley Health and Anthem officials declined to elaborate on the terms of the deal. However, both sides said they were satisfied.

"The new agreement covers all major elements of our contract proposal and will ensure continued access to the same high-quality services for Anthem patients," Valley Health Public Relations Manager Carol Weare said in an email.

“Prioritizing the health of our communities is more important than ever, which is why we are pleased to have reached this agreement [that] protects affordability for consumers and ensures our members have access to quality care at Valley Health,” Ricketts said in the release.

Weare said the new contract will not require Valley Health to alter the amount it charges Anthem customers for medical appointments and procedures. Scott Golden, director of corporate communications for Anthem, would not say whether the revised agreement would change the rates it charges customers who use Valley Health.

When asked if going public with the contract dispute hurt negotiations, Golden replied in an email: "Definitely a question for Valley since they made the decision to bring the public into the negotiation."

Weare's response was, "From the beginning, Valley Health’s goal in working with Anthem of Virginia has been to ensure we can continue to meet patients’ needs today and in the future.

"For Valley Health, this contract was about fairness, caring for the community and maintaining an unwavering commitment to our patients and staff," Weare wrote. "There were significant differences between Valley Health and Anthem’s contract proposal, however we remained optimistic that an agreement would be reached and are pleased to put this matter behind us."

For some Anthem customers, the renewal came too late. Last month, the city of Winchester dropped Anthem as its insurance carrier. Starting Jan. 1, the new provider for health, prescription, dental and vision insurance for the municipal government's approximately 600 employees will be Minnesota-based United Healthcare, one of the largest insurers in the United States.

More than 2,500 employees of the Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County school divisions currently have insurance through Anthem. All three systems announced in recent weeks they are shopping for new coverage, but none have announced carrier changes.

Valley Health invites its customers to call 1-866-414-4576 if they have questions about the new agreement. Anthem users can call Member Services using the phone number on the back of their member I.D. card.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com