FLOWOOD, Miss. (WJTV) – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi (BCBS) filed a lawsuit against employees of the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) for their alleged defamatory public relations campaign against the health insurance company.

The lawsuit was filed against Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. LouAnn Woodward, Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs Dr. Alan Jones and Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Marc Rolph.

The lawsuit doesn’t name UMMC as a defendant because, as a political subdivision of the state, Mississippi law grants UMMC immunity for defamation committed by its employees.

BCBSMS claims that the named employees “initiated and continued a far-reaching public relations campaign designed to disseminate false and defamatory statements about BCBSMS to the public.”

The lawsuit alleges that the employees used a media campaign to make the issue appear that BCBS dropped, removed or excluded UMMC from its healthcare provider network. Rather, BCBS states that UMMC voluntarily ended its agreements. On January 28, the lawsuit claims Dr. Woodward notified BCBS that UMMC was ending all of its Professional Provider Network Agreements between UMMC and BCBS.

It also claims that UMMC chose to cancel or delay appointments, require full payment before services, deactivate approved patients from transplant lists and refuse care for Blue Cross patients, despite BCBS “making it clear” that it would continue to pay Network level benefits for covered medical services.

UMMC’s contract with BCBS of Mississippi ended earlier this year.

UMMC officials stated that BCBS refused to to bring the medical center’s reimbursement closer to fair market rates. They claimed BCBS has underpaid UMMC by “tens of millions of dollars” for years.

On Wednesday, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney spoke about the dispute between the hospital and the insurance provider at the Neshoba County Fair.

“Somebody’s got to give. Somebody’s got to say, ‘Okay, we’re willing to negotiate.’ But we got two stubborn goliaths that just do not want to sit down and talk. And you know who gets hurt? Everybody in the state of Mississippi,” said Chaney.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Rankin County on Thursday, July 28.

WJTV 12 News reached out to UMMC for a comment about the lawsuit. They said, “No comment.”