Recently, the UPMC board of directors, citing the need to preserve its "own assets," voted to reject negotiations to extend the current contract with Highmark Health Services, the insurance subsidiary of Highmark, beyond the end of 2014, or to enter into a new agreement. UPMC has also launched a public campaign to try to persuade the community that severing its relationship with Highmark Health and disrupting continuity of patient care for millions of Western Pennsylvanians would somehow be good for the community. It is a claim that rings hollow despite its repetition.
The community does not accept UPMC's position, nor does Highmark. We believe in the value of choice for individuals and families in selecting their hospitals and physicians and the ability of consumers and patients to have affordable access to community health care assets regardless of their insurance card.
Highmark Health wants a multi-year contract with UPMC -- which, by the way, we believe has very good hospitals and physicians -- because we believe it is in the community's best interest. The region's largest health care delivery system should be accessible to the members of the region's largest health care insurer.
Highmark's thinking on this issue rests on three principles:
Community assets for the public good
Assets that were built through community support belong to the community. UPMC assets were built, not by investors or stockholders, but by community resources, state and federal tax dollars, local philanthropy and insurance premiums, especially premiums of Highmark members!
No charitable health care institution should be allowed to, or have the power to, limit access for millions of people to health care facilities that are community assets. Allegheny Health Network will never restrict access to those carrying UPMC insurance, or any other insurance carrier.
Open competition vs. a controlled market
Highmark believes that open competition should be built around delivering high quality care at an affordable cost that is transparent to consumers. UPMC professes to support competition, but it really wants cartel-like competition without choice, where it, not the market, controls how, where and to whom care is delivered.
The approach UPMC has taken, unfortunately, is unlike any seen across the industry. It is not true competition. We believe individuals should select their health plan among a group of competitors. The same applies with hospitals and physicians. Competition at all levels, based upon quality, cost, service and convenience is what the community wants and needs.
Patient access and consumer choice
After all the arguments and claims, what must be protected is the ability of people to choose -- choose their health plan, choose their hospitals, choose their doctors. We who work at or are charged with operating charitable health care institutions exist to serve individuals, not the reverse. It is the people who should decide matters, not just the powerful!
Our community wants stability in the health care marketplace and the security of knowing that individuals and families with Highmark health coverage will continue to have affordable access to facilities and doctors of their choice.
At Highmark, we worked hard this past year to complete our affiliations with the West Penn Allegheny Health System, Jefferson Regional Medical Center and Saint Vincent Health System. Despite several obstacles we were successful and established the new Allegheny Health Network to provide the people of this region with options and choices for their health care.
Highmark also continues to be deeply committed in Western Pennsylvania to the strength and vitality of community hospitals and physicians. Our efforts to assure affordable access to care in the region depend on maintaining and supporting community providers, and promoting policies and practices that do this. True access means that care is reasonably affordable and reasonably convenient across the region.
There is strong community support for the hostile approach to end and for the parties to work together to negotiate a new contract and work together to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of health care for everyone. If there are concerns about overcapacity within the overall system, let's work on that constructively and with proper assistance.
Health care should not be a financially driven winner-take-all-game for institutions, especially those that claim to be charitable in purpose. But most importantly, it should never be a win-or-lose game for patients and consumers.
Highmark has a 75-year history of serving the people of Western Pennsylvania. At Highmark, we are ready to roll up our sleeves to work with UPMC and to work for what's best for the people of this region. People's voices must -- and will -- be heard.
William Winkenwerder Jr. is president and CEO of Highmark.