The owner of Medcare Urgent Care is fighting back against the largest private health insurer in the state after the company announced it will narrow the list of in-network urgent care providers later this year.

Dr. Radwan Hallaba, who founded Medcare in 2006, launched an online petition July 4, protesting BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina's decision.

"At Medcare Urgent Care, we believe that patients should be able to choose their providers," Hallaba wrote on "BlueCross BlueShield of SC has taken this choice away for many people by removing Medcare from its urgent care provider network."

By Tuesday afternoon, more than 350 people had signed the online petition. Medcare includes six clinics in the Lowcountry, the Midlands and the Upstate. An additional site in Spartanburg is currently under construction. The company employs 135 people statewide.

Hallaba wrote that Medcare representatives met with BlueCross BlueShield executives in Columbia regarding the decision and were told by the insurer's medical director that there was no specific reason why Medcare would be excluded from the company's network.

"When we pressed to ask whether or not it was a matter of cost, quality or convenience they again stated that it 'was not for cost, quality, convenience or access.'"

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina owns a majority share of a company called UCI Medical Affiliates, which manages the Doctors Care franchise - one of the largest networks of family medicine and urgent care centers in South Carolina and Tennessee.

"It doesn't smell right," Hallaba said.

Nason Medical Center will also be excluded from BlueCross BlueShield's network starting Oct. 8.

Most customers covered by BlueCross BlueShield in South Carolina will be affected by these changes. They can continue to see providers at Medcare Urgent Care and Nason Medical Center, but will be expected to pay out-of-network prices for those visits.

"We are in the process of notifying agents and members right now for this action that will occur in October," wrote Patti Embry-Tautenhan, a BlueCross BlueShield spokeswoman, in an email. "We have received very little feedback, most of which has been in the form of asking questions rather than stating a point of view. We are moving forward with this decision."

Hallaba said 25 to 30 percent of his patients are covered by the BlueCross BlueShield plans that will be affected by the network change.

"It has the real possibility of putting the brakes on our growth," he said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.