UPMC demands Highmark drop its lawsuit

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UPMC filed a court motion Thursday demanding enforcement of Highmark's pledge to withdraw a 2009 lawsuit filed by the insurer's affiliate, West Penn Allegheny Health System.

Withdrawal of the antitrust lawsuit, in which UPMC was accused of using its dominance to suffocate West Penn Allegheny, was one of the planks of an agreement reached in May 2012 with the aid of Gov. Tom Corbett. That agreement extended UPMC's contract to treat Highmark's subscribers at in-network rates through 2014.

Highmark "is refusing to honor its obligations" to cause the withdrawal of West Penn Allegheny's lawsuit "with prejudice," UPMC's attorneys wrote in their motion. Generally, a lawsuit withdrawn with prejudice cannot be revived, while one withdrawn without prejudice can be.

Highmark, in a statement, responded that UPMC "continues to use heavy-handed legal maneuvering in an attempt to eliminate competition in the Western Pennsylvania health care delivery market and further drive up the already unsustainable cost of health care in the region."

The withdrawal of West Penn Allegheny's lawsuit was a topic at a June 10 status conference on the legal tangle between the region's biggest hospital system and top insurer. UPMC has sued Highmark, saying the insurer has stifled competition. A group of private plaintiffs has sued them both, alleging collusion.

On June 10, a Highmark attorney said withdrawal would have to wait until after a July 1 deadline for public comment on the state insurance department's decision to allow Highmark to affiliate with West Penn Allegheny. U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti has scheduled a Monday hearing on the cases.

UPMC's attorneys wrote that Highmark "has advised UPMC that it will not fulfill its dismissal obligation" on July 1. "Highmark, instead, is seeking to parlay its refusal into more concessions from UPMC."

Highmark wants UPMC to withdraw its suit as part of the deal, according to UPMC's motion. Although UPMC's lawyers claimed they are not obligated to withdraw the lawsuit against Highmark, they offered to withdraw it "without prejudice" after West Penn Allegheny's claim is ended with prejudice.

Highmark claimed UPMC "refuses to abide by the agreement [to drop litigation] so that it can continue its antitrust lawsuit against Highmark and continue to harass Highmark for standing up to UPMC and for trying to preserve health care competition in the region."

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord. First Published June 27, 2013 1:00 PM


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