Unhealthy feud: Insurance commissioner shows welcome concern

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The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark need official supervision like the Hatfields and McCoys needed an effective sheriff. Someone in authority needs to talk some sense into these people.

Ever since negotiations for a new service contract between UPMC and Highmark broke down -- and the insurer invested $475 million in health care delivery in the form of the West Penn Allegheny Health System -- their feud has roiled the regional health care scene, bringing uncertainty and consternation to patients, physicians, hospitals and other employers.

At least the Hatfields and McCoys had a fairly limited feud. This one affects thousands of people, all of whom don't deserve to be caught in the cross-fire.

With Highmark now a competitor in the eyes of UPMC, the feud has only become nastier. The latest wrinkle has Highmark suing UPMC in federal court, claiming that it has been running misleading advertising "designed to panic employers and health care consumers" -- although there seems to have been enough of that going around already.

Whatever the merits of this particular claim, the dispute has two nonprofits, supposedly pledged to a mission of community service, acting out an old-fashioned capitalist drama that seems to have written the public interest out of the script. So where's the sheriff?

The authority figure on duty is Michael F. Consedine, the state insurance commissioner. In an interview Tuesday with Post-Gazette reporter Steve Twedt, Mr. Consedine had some welcome news: His department has had a couple of private meetings with both Highmark and UPMC, and he is prepared to intervene if they are unable to agree on a new contract.

Good luck with that. UPMC claims this sheriff doesn't have the power to act under state law; Mr. Consedine insists that he does. Whatever the legal ramifications, it is dismaying that UPMC has not taken the point that arguing legalities with the official who represents the public will be unhelpful to building public support for its stance.

Mr. Consedine needs some allies if he seeks to assert his authority. As we have said before, where is Gov. Tom Corbett as this dispute spreads fear on his home turf? Where are local legislators? They should return in September prepared to pass legislation to make these nonprofits act like they deserve the name. Give the sheriff more power, if that is what it takes. Give the people more protection.


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