Medical rescue: The Allegheny Health Network is born

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The state boosted not only the health care but also the fortunes of the region Monday by approving the merger of Highmark and the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

In deciding after an 18-month examination to back Highmark's acquisition of financially struggling WPAHS, the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance placed its faith in the region's dominant health insurer to revive the five-hospital system and relaunch it within a new integrated entity called the Allegheny Health Network.

That means the 11,600 employees at Allegheny General, West Penn, Forbes Regional, Canonsburg General and Allegheny Valley hospitals and a hospice center will join thousands of others at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Saint Vincent Health System and other provider units in forming a robust alternative and counterweight to UPMC, Western Pennsylvania's dominant health care provider.

This crucial approval from the state is not the end of the work, but the beginning. Highmark, with its substantial reserves, must now begin the upgrades, the recruitment and the marketing that will make its new network a worthy competitor in the eyes of the public -- and give it greater leverage in securing a new Highmark contract with UPMC.

Let the competition begin.

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