The UPMC/Highmark dispute needs to stop

HARRISBURG, June 4 – Like many of my neighbors and fellow residents of western Pennsylvania, I continue to be dismayed by the ongoing situation between UPMC and Highmark. I am particularly angry about the decision by the UPMC board and CEO Jeffrey Romoff to make it effectively impossible for Highmark insurance subscribers to access care at UPMC facilities. I have even heard from people who are now being forced to travel out of the region, or out of the state, to get the care they need because UPMC will not honor their Highmark insurance policy. This is madness and it cannot go on.

As a non-profit, the focus of UPMC should be medical care for the community and its people. The organization accepts donations from those people (and has done so for decades), in the form of charitable contributions and taxpayer-funded grants. Now, UPMC is stabbing those same people in the back by refusing to provide care if they have a Highmark policy. The Hillman Family Foundations have made large charitable contributions to the UPMC system for the good of the community for many years, and now large parts of the community will not have access to the facilities those contributions built.

It seems like the UPMC board and its CEO are only seeing dollar signs as they seek to crush competition from Highmark and other insurers. Even Paul O’Neill, former Alcoa CEO, former U.S. secretary of the Treasury, and a former UPMC board member, said recently in Karen Kane’s excellent Post-Gazette editorial, “I think it’s unconscionable for anybody to basically withhold necessary care from individuals on some phony basis that they don’t have the right insurance company name on their policy.” I agree wholeheartedly and I commend Mr. O’Neill for speaking out on this issue.

I also commend Attorney General Josh Shapiro for his efforts to fix the problems with UPMC. I am hopeful that through his lawsuit against UPMC, the consent decree may be extended, and UPMC can be forced to undergo serious reform, to better reflect its nonprofit status. We have had cooperation between UPMC and Highmark for many years, and we need it to continue.

The time has come for public pressure to win the day. I encourage citizens of western Pennsylvania to reach out to your elected representatives at the state, county, and local level, as well as UPMC board members themselves, and let them know that the people of our region have had enough of this mess. We need a resolution and we need it quickly. The health and wellness of our citizenry depends on it.

Tony DeLuca is the state representative for the 32nd District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He can be reached at his Penn Hills office at 412-793-2448.