Will NIB shares bleed to keep St Vincent's onside?

The battle could get serious.

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Shares of NIB Holdings Ltd (ASX: NHF) finished trade on Friday at $6.98, down 1.97%.

Whilst there's been nothing market sensitive released by the company today, the moves come amidst a public standoff with St Vincent's Health Australia regarding healthcare costs.

Some have raised concerns about the future of the insurer's partnership with the hospital as a result. Here's what you need to know.

St Vincent's threatens to end negotiations

NIB shares were in focus on Thursday after non-profit hospital group St Vincent's Health Australia put the health fund on notice, saying it could "walk away from their contract within the next 65 business days unless a new fairer funding agreement is reached".

The contracts are to do with the funding agreement St Vincent's has with NIB.

The group says it has asked NIB to provide a "fair funding agreement" that reflects increased healthcare costs of private hospitals.

St Vincent's is Australia's largest operator of non-profit private hospitals. It runs 10 private hospitals throughout NSW, QLD and Victoria and says NIB has "not put a fair offer on the table" whilst shutting the door on any future negotiations.

Now the group has threatened to walk away from talks with NIB after being left with "no choice".

Unless a new funding agreement is reached within the notice period, St Vincent's will end its contract with nib in early October (final day of notice period – Thursday, 3 October). 

This means that, after this date – unless an agreement is reached in the meantime – patients who use nib for their private health insurance may be required to contribute more to the cost of their care when using a St Vincent's private hospital.

St Vincent's CEO, Chris Blake, said that over 70 private hospitals have closed in the past 5 years here in Australia. In fact, the Federal Government is reviewing the issue right now in a national review.

Blake also described St Vincent's frustrations:

In the last 12 months, St Vincent's has negotiated major new agreements with Medibank Private Ltd (ASX: MPL), HCF, and the Alliance group of health funds. While the negotiations were robust, both sides gave ground to achieve a fair result. 

This is not a decision we take lightly. This is the first time in our 167-year history that St Vincent's has given notice to a private health fund that we intend to end our agreement. It's an indication of how seriously we treat this matter.

But nib has given us no choice but to make this call. 

NIB shares continue downtrend

Whilst the news isn't market-sensitive, NIB shares drifted 5% lower this week. This continues a longer-term downtrend that's been in place for the past three months.

In that time, NIB is down from highs of $7.82 per share on 9 April.

The firm reassured its members of continued coverage while it hopes to resume negotiations with St Vincent's Health Australia.

In a statement on Friday, NIB's CEO, Mark Fitzgibbon, assured members booked for treatment at St Vincent's hospitals that they will remain covered until at least October 3, according to The Australian.

Fitzgibbon expressed disappointment at St Vincent's decision to go public with the dispute but insisted that NIB has made a fair offer.

If negotiations fail, NIB members can still receive treatment initiated before October 3 until discharge.

What this means for investors

Despite the dispute, brokers are positive. Goldman Sachs recently rated NIB as a buy with a price target of $8.10, citing favourable operating trends and strong policyholder growth. NIB's approved rate increases of 4.1% this year are expected to support its financial stability despite the current challenges.

Still, the ongoing negotiations between NIB and St Vincent's are critical for maintaining coverage and customer satisfaction.

Investors should keep a close eye on the developments, as the outcome could significantly impact NIB's share price and market position.

NIB shares are down over 19% in the last 12 months.

Motley Fool contributor Zach Bristow has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has positions in and has recommended Goldman Sachs Group. The Motley Fool Australia has positions in and has recommended NIB Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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