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Highmark says members won't have access to new UPMC East

When UPMC opens its new $240 million hospital in Monroeville in July, it will be closed to Highmark Inc. members.

But that's not by UPMC's choice.

Highmark, which for months has called on the region's dominant hospital system to restart negotiations on long-term comprehensive contracts, turned the tables on UPMC today, stating that it has refused a request by UPMC to sign a one-year deal giving Highmark members access to UPMC East.

"We don't think talking about one facility makes any sense without a long-term contract," said Deborah Rice, a Highmark senior vice president.

UPMC responded that Highmark was limiting access for Medicare members, despite a December joint statement issued by the two health care giants that said people with government insurance would continue to have full in-network access at all UPMC facilities.

"UPMC offered Highmark Medicare contracts to UPMC East identical to those that are in place with UPMC's other facilities, but Highmark declined," UPMC said in a statement.

Rice said the joint statement only covered UPMC facilities that were open and operational at that time.

The 156-bed UPMC East is under construction about a mile away from Forbes Regional Hospital, which is owned by West Penn Allegheny Health System. Highmark is trying to buy West Penn Allegheny and is spending $20 million to upgrade Forbes.

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