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Corbett pushes for accord between Highmark, West Penn Allegheny

Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, 3:29 p.m.
 

Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday urged Highmark Inc. and West Penn Allegheny Health System to work together to preserve health care choice in Western Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Corbett said the two health care organizations should focus on jobs and access to medical services, not a legal fight over whether Highmark breached its proposed acquisition agreement.

“I am asking both Highmark and West Penn to end the rhetoric, work together and see if there is an amicable way to move forward,” the Republican governor said. “We need health care choice and competition in Western Pennsylvania.”

West Penn Allegheny spokesman Dan Laurent said the health system would not comment “beyond reiterating that we're open to discussions with Highmark.”

Highmark spokesman Michael Weinstein said the insurer agrees with Corbett about the need for choice and competition, “and we urge West Penn Allegheny Health System to change its position and work cooperatively to move forward with the proposed affiliation.”

Corbett's statement follows West Penn Allegheny's move on Friday to pull out of a proposed $475 million acquisition by Highmark. Health system officials said Highmark breached terms of their deal by demanding bankruptcy to deal with West Penn Allegheny's nearly $1 billion in bond debt and pension liabilities.

Highmark, which denies that it demanded bankruptcy, on Monday upped the ante by filing a lawsuit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court seeking to keep West Penn Allegheny from talking to other potential buyers.

Corbett played a key role in finding a temporary solution to a dispute between Highmark and UPMC caused by Highmark's intention to buy West Penn Allegheny, a UPMC competitor.

The governor and other top lawmakers persuaded officials from Highmark and UPMC to sit down with an independent mediator to discuss their differences. The meetings led to an extended reimbursement contract that gives Highmark members in-network access to UPMC through the end of 2014.

But the governor may not be able to do the same with the state's largest health insurer and Pittsburgh's struggling No. 2 health system, said Kevin Harley, Corbett's press secretary.

“It's a unique situation, because we're a regulator on this,” Harley said.

The state Insurance Department, part of Corbett's administration, is independently reviewing the Highmark-West Penn Allegheny deal. Corbett must balance allowing that review and advocating for Highmark's acquisition of the health system.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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