Highmark in settlement, Mylan sues FDA, RG Steel worker to get job aid

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Highmark, Royal Mile in proposed settlement

The region's largest health insurance company denies it engaged in anti-competitive practices but agrees to refrain from those practices until Dec. 31, 2014, in a proposed class-action settlement filed Thursday in federal court.

Highmark Inc. also agrees to pay the attorneys for Royal Mile Co. and the other plaintiffs $4.5 million, but it doesn't agree to reduce premium rates or provide its customers with a refund. A Highmark spokesman declined to comment.

Royal Mile, a Whitehall-based property management company, and the other plaintiffs contend that Highmark has conspired with UPMC to drive up premiums. If U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti approves the settlement, it would leave the hospital system as the only defendant in the lawsuit.

Scott Hare, one of Royal Mile's attorneys, said that while the settlement doesn't reduce premiums or provide a refund to Highmark's customers, the plaintiffs have commissioned an economic analysis that they will present at a hearing before the judge approves the settlement. The precise numbers aren't available yet, but the studies will show that the agreement will benefit customers by “tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

“We're confident that that's the range of figures we're going to see,” Hare said.

With Highmark's help, the plaintiffs are also in a stronger position for obtaining a damage award against UPMC that would also benefit Highmark's customers, Hare said.

A UPMC spokesman couldn't be reached for comment. UPMC has previously asked Conti to dismiss it from the lawsuit. It claims that federal antitrust law only allows a claim by someone who has directly purchased a good or service from a company.

Since all of Royal Mile's dealings were with Highmark, Royal Mile doesn't have a claim against UPMC, the hospital system argues.

Mylan sues FDA over generic drug

Mylan Inc. sued the Food and Drug Administration for approval to sell a generic version of Novartis AG's heart pill Diovan after a competitor failed to get the drug on the market in time. Mylan, in a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Washington, said Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. forfeited its right to six-month exclusivity to sell the generic drug by not winning FDA approval. Mylan argues the FDA's refusal to approve its sale of the drug is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. On Sept. 21, Mylan, based in Canonsburg, announced a copy of Diovan HCT, a combination of the Novartis drug and hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic, while Novartis' own generics unit started marketing a branded version of the same drug.

Ex-steelworkers to get job services

Workers laid off from steel industry plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia will get re-employment services under a $450,777 federal emergency grant announced on Thursday. The training and support are for about 184 workers affected by cuts at six RG Steel facilities — four in Ohio and two in West Virginia — plus a supplier, a Kinder Morgan plant in Pennsylvania. The grant is the last piece of a $984,248 award announced in 2010, when steelmaker Severstal owned the plants. RG Steel purchased them later. The latest funding will go toward workers already getting services, plus workers laid off as a result of RG Steel's Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

30-year mortgage rate hits 3.36%

Average rates on fixed mortgages fell to record lows for the second straight week. The declines have led more homeowners to refinance, a trend that could help jumpstart the economy. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said on Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 3.36 percent. That's down from last week's rate of 3.40 percent, which was the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, dipped to 2.69 percent, down from last week's record low of 2.73 percent.

Job training facility expanded

The Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette Inc. expanded its building by 3,650 square feet, which had added four new classrooms, including a computer lab, three offices and 40 parking spaces at its Greensburg campus. The $475,000 addition will enable the non-profit agency to increase the number of adults and youths it assists in obtaining additional education and employment in the region, said Tami Ozegovich, director of education. Currently, 800 adults are participating in the programs. Parking has been expanded to 140 spaces.

Dish scraps Blockbuster plans

Billionaire Charlie Ergen is giving up on his plan to turn the once-mighty Blockbuster LLC video-store chain into a Netflix Inc. competitor and retail outlet. When Ergen's Dish Network Corp. acquired Blockbuster out of bankruptcy in April 2011, Ergen planned to use the stores to sell Dish mobile devices that could be used to stream Blockbuster movies. The plans broke down when regulators didn't immediately approve a waiver allowing Dish to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial data and voice transmission. Dish has begun the process of closing stores. About 900 stores remained as of August, none in the Pittsburgh area, a fraction of the thousands Blockbuster once operated.

2 water systems sold

Pennsylvania American Water, the largest water utility statewide, has acquired two Fayette County water systems for a combined $400,000, to expand its distribution service area. The North Fayette County Municipal Authority sold the Balsinger and Springfield Pike public water systems that serve nearly 860 people to Pennsylvania American. The utility provides water to more than 16,000 customers in Fayette County, with the deal extending its reach into parts of Menallen, German and Connellsville. Upgrades to the Springfield system will include installation of two booster stations to improve reliability, said the company, a subsidiary of American Water.

Other business news:

• Management Science Associates Inc. was given this year's Corporate Wellness Champion Award by the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health. And one of the Pittsburgh-based company's employees was named the top female in the group's annual Corporate Wellness Challenge, in which employees were encouraged to walk more. Companies compete to amass the most miles walked by their employees. Management Science Associates' Suzy Silliman of Fox Chapel walked 1,327 miles during the 10-week challenge.

• Crown Castle International Corp. plans to borrow $1.65 billion to help finance the purchase of rights to operate cellular towers of Deutsche Telekom AG's T- Mobile USA unit. The provider of infrastructure for wireless communications intends to use proceeds from the sale of senior notes maturing in 2023, along with cash and funds from its revolving credit line, to finance the deal, Houston-based Crown Castle said. The company's operations center is in Canonsburg.

• Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. donated $250,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which promotes awareness and provides mammograms to those in need, and is urging consumers to participate in its Endless Ribbon initiative on Facebook. Visitors to the Findlay-based retailer's Facebook page can add a pink ribbon through Oct. 31 to their profile pictures to dedicate to a loved one, or as an expression of hope, and Dick's will combine all the participants' photos and attempt to form the world's longest pink ribbon.

• Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney said it will open a law office in Charlotte within the next two weeks. The satellite office would be the Downtown firm's 15th office and concentrate on banking and financial law. The Charlotte office will be staffed with three attorneys.

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