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Lawmakers intervene in Highmark-UPMC feud

State Republican and Democratic lawmakers from Western Pennsylvania on Thursday urged UPMC and Highmark to stop feuding and restart negotiations.

"They need to work out these important issues without cutting off access to the quality health care," said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who joined 11 colleagues at a Downtown news conference to ask the companies to find a solution.

UPMC refuses to negotiate to renew contracts with Highmark because the insurer is in the midst of a $475 million takeover of West Penn Allegheny Health System -- UPMC's competitor.

In a letter to Highmark CEO Kenneth R. Melani and UPMC CEO Jeffrey A. Romoff, lawmakers warned that the split could be "devastating to those who are undergoing treatment for serious, terminal or chronic illness."

"The public clearly won't be serviced if health care access is limited," said state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

Highmark spokesman Michael Weinstein said Highmark officials agree with the legislators' concerns and are prepared to meet with UPMC "anytime, anywhere."

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said UPMC officials want to meet, but only to discuss how to end the relationship smoothly, not to negotiate.

Turzai said legislators don't have a legislative remedy to force the two companies to renew their contracts. He said the state Senate and House insurance committees could hold hearings next month in Pittsburgh and Erie.

Wood said UPMC officials are willing to attend public hearings to explain the changes that will occur when UPMC's contracts with Highmark expire June 30, 2012.

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