State Senate bill takes shot at UPMC-Highmark dispute

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HARRISBURG -- A bill taking aim at the contract dispute between regional health care and insurance giants UPMC and Highmark will soon be introduced in the state Senate.

A similar version of the legislation is already in the state House.

The measures would require hospitals operating as "part of an integrated delivery network" -- such as UPMC -- "to contract with any willing insurer."

The contract between Highmark and UPMC expires at the end of the year; if the two don't arrive at a new contract before then, many Highmark customers won't have in-network access to UPMC doctors and hospitals.

The Senate proposal would also establish a Health Care Competition and Oversight Board "to ensure that an effectively operating competitive marketplace exists in the Commonwealth, and that the market for health care goods and services operates to serve the interests of consumers."

The House bill is sponsored by what some would describe as an unlikely duo of legislators from opposite sides of the political spectrum: the more liberal Rep. Dan Frankel, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, and Rep. Jim Christiana, a Beaver County Republican.

The Senate legislation, which has yet to be formally introduced, also will come from a bipartisan pair: Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat from Forest Hills, and Sen. Randy Vulakovich, a Shaler Republican.

"While I have always had deep respect for the work UPMC has done in our region, we cannot sit by idly while thousands of patients are turned away from seeing their doctor," Mr. Vulakovich said in a statement announcing his and Mr. Costa's intent to introduce the bill.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, said he does not know if the Republican leader will support the bills. However, he said it is an issue of interest to legislators from beyond Pittsburgh.

"This is an issue that has won a lot of attention in the Capitol, and not just from members who represent Allegheny County. The reach of the entities involved go far beyond that," said the spokesman, Erik Arneson.

UPMC has said it is opposed to the legislation, as has the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. A representative from the association testified at a December House Health Committee hearing the proposal would harm competition by lessening the incentive for providers and insurers in crafting benefit packages.

Kate Giammarise:, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise. First Published January 17, 2014 2:51 PM

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