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This undated file photo shows OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington.

STEVE SMEDLEY, Pantagraph file photo

BLOOMINGTON — Just in time for Thanksgiving, OSF HealthCare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois have settled their contract dispute that threatened to shift health care planning for thousands of Central Illinoisans.

The settlement means that people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield Commercial, PPO, EPO and Blue Choice products will continue to be able to access in-network health care at all OSF HealthCare hospitals through 2018.

Hospitals include OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, OSF HealthCare Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria and OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.

OSF announced the agreement and settlement of its contract dispute with Blue Cross and Blue Shield on Wednesday afternoon. Details of the settlement were not released.

"We are pleased to have finalized a continuation of OSF HealthCare's relationship with BCBSIL that ensures patients and families have in-network access to the treatments and services they need," Randy Billings, OSF senior vice president of population health, said in a statement. "We realize this situation caused concern for our patients and families and appreciate the support and patience of local businesses and community leaders."

Blue Cross and Blue Shield spokeswoman Colleen Miller verified the agreement keeping OSF hospitals in-network.

"OSF hospitals also continue to participate in our HMO network," Miller told The Pantagraph. "OSF physician groups will continue to be available in our physician network."

Outpatient services at non-hospital OSF facilities — including doctors' offices and clinics — were never affected by the dispute and their coverage continues.

But inpatient services and in-hospital outpatient services would have been affected without the settlement, meaning medical care would remain available for Blue Cross and Blue Shield members but at out-of-network rates.

"We thank our members and customers for their patience as we worked on their behalf to provide access to cost-effective, quality health care," Miller said.

Advocate Health Care was not a part of the dispute and its hospitals, including Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal and Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka, remain in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield network.

The dispute began when Blue Cross wanted to add other hospitals to its network, including hospitals that compete with OSF. OSF responded that it would accept a larger network but couldn't afford to provide Blue Cross with the same reduced rates.

Blue Cross then announced plans to remove larger OSF hospitals in Peoria, Galesburg and Rockford from its network. OSF countered by terminating its Blue Cross agreements, effective Jan. 1, with most of its other hospitals, arguing that the three larger hospitals accept transfers from other OSF hospitals.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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