As the rest of the country struggles to recover in these troubling financial times, the Pittsburgh region continues to move along almost unscathed economically. Unemployment is not at alarming record highs and the housing market has successfully maintained its value.
Why is that the case, one might ask? The answer is primarily because the underpinnings of our local economy have remained solid and have even continued to grow.
One hundred years ago the primary foundation of the economy in Pittsburgh was U.S. Steel. This titan of a company was created by and sat atop the shoulders of one man: Andrew Carnegie.
Today that foundation has shifted dramatically and likewise the primary building block belongs to one equally impressive economic engine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Furthermore, just as was the case with Andrew Carnegie, there is primarily one individual to credit for creating this new "heart" that keeps the lifeblood of our regional economy pumping: Jeffrey Romoff.
Not only has this man created an economy-building, job-creating juggernaut, he also has provided us with one of the highest-quality health care systems in the world. Yet hardly a day goes by lately when you can't pick up a newspaper that isn't portraying Mr. Romoff in the style of the ominous "Mr. Potter," made famous in the Jimmy Stewart movie classic "It's a Wonderful Life." Conversely, the friendly, reasonable "Bailey Savings & Loan" is none other than the behemoth insurance company Highmark.
To this scenario I apply a well-known Pittsburgh euphemism: What a bunch a baloney!
Highmark has increased the cost of health care in this region for decades by way of a monopoly that has cared little about companies' or individuals' ability to manage its ever-increasing premiums.
It was Jeffrey Romoff who took on Highmark to challenge its stranglehold and business tactics. He created the UPMC Health Plan and effectively busted the Highmark monopoly. In so doing he created a health-insurance option that offers world-renowned health care at affordable, competitive prices.
Now, in a maneuver to strike back at UPMC and regain some leverage, Highmark has decided to go into the business of providing its own health care by buying the West Penn Allegheny Health System.
This isn't surprising, for the business of America is business and regaining a competitive advantage is what you'd expect from Highmark. Government should stay out of the battle and let Highmark deal with the issue it alone created.
Likewise, let UPMC continue to grow and thrive. Thus far, its management has done pretty well with its business model.
All of the pundits and politicos should keep in mind that we wouldn't be in a position to dedicate so much time debating this issue if we were struggling to stay afloat economically like the rest of the country. We primarily have UPMC to thank for that.
To the supposed thousands of people and companies worried about what might happen when UPMC and Highmark break up, I have one simple solution: Sign up for UPMC health insurance. It's much less expensive and it provides the best health care in the world -- thanks primarily to one man: Jeffrey Romoff.
Bob Cranmer , a former Republican Allegheny County commissioner, is the president and CEO of Cranmer Consultants ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).