There was one critical word missing from Steve Pociask and Joseph P. Fuhr Jr.’s 550-plus word argument against the Pennsylvania Legislature taking action in the UPMC-Highmark dispute (“Let UPMC and Highmark Argue It Out,” June 5 Perspectives). That one word is charitable.
Highmark and UPMC are not McDonald’s and Burger King, as the authors alluded to. McDonald’s and Burger King pay income and property taxes and are in business to generate a profit for their shareholders. To the contrary, both UPMC and Highmark have been granted charitable status because their mission is one of serving the public good, operating free from the private profit motive and relieving the government of burden. Because of their charitable designation, UPMC and Highmark enjoy tax-exempt status.
Nearly every resident of Western Pennsylvania, therefore, is responsible for compensating for these tax exemptions through higher personal tax obligations. In addition, much of the assets of UPMC and Highmark have been the result of donations made by civic-minded citizens of Western Pennsylvania. Did those individuals intend for their generosity to be used as weapons in a competitive battle between two charitable organizations?
The decision the state Legislature should reach is to either encourage UPMC and Highmark to act in full compliance with the requirements of a charity or to revoke their charitable status and let them compete in a free market.