County council wants to resolve UPMC-Highmark disagreement

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Members of Allegheny County Council want to meet with representatives of both sides in the Highmark-UPMC contract dispute.

Council President Jim Burn is drafting the invitation to be sent to top officials of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Highmark health insurance network.

At their meeting Tuesday, council members discussed, but took no action on, a motion that called on UPMC to continue to accept Highmark insurance coverage at its medical care facilities.

"None of our constituents should have a fear of their insurance being rejected when they are in need of health care," Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, said when he introduced the motion.

Several of his colleagues, however, warned that council should not appear to be taking sides in a commercial dispute. Highmark is by far the region's largest health insurance provider while UPMC is the dominant provider of hospital and physician services.

Mr. Drozd's proposal was sent to council's health and human services committee for review. He agreed to delay any vote on the motion, but he asked that council send letters to UPMC chief executive Jeffrey A. Romoff and to Highmark President Kenneth Melani seeking a meeting.

Several members of council, including Mr. Drozd, said they had heard from residents in their districts who are worried about losing access to UPMC hospitals and doctors.

Highmark is in the process of acquiring the West Penn Allegheny Health System, a move that UPMC says would make the insurance giant its direct competitor. In response, UPMC has said it will not extend its contract with Highmark. The effect of that action would put its doctors and hospitals "out of network" for Highmark customers.

Mr. Burn, D-Millvale, said his letter will make three points. "We want both sides to continue having positive discussions ... we will offer our services to help the talks ... we want to be kept up to date on what is going on between the parties," he said.

"We don't want to weigh in on contractual issues, but we are a citizens council, and our citizens are concerned," he said.

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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