State asks UPMC and Highmark to suspend negative ads
State officials have told UPMC and Highmark to stop airing negative television ads because they appear to be geared toward consumers' fears and regulators will review their accuracy.
In a letter to the CEOs of the warring health giants, Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine and Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said the advertisements “appear to be intended to drive consumers to choose their health insurance and health provider based on fear rather than a balanced, factual understanding of their options.”
Neither company took immediate action to comply by pulling ads, spokespeople said.
The letter, dated Thursday, is the first action from a task force Gov. Tom Corbett established last month in response to consumer complaints about the commercials, which focus on the expiration of reimbursement contracts between UPMC and Highmark at the end of 2014.
Without those contracts, Highmark insurance members would lose in-network access to most UPMC hospitals and physicians. Highmark customers still could seek treatment from UPMC, but at more costly out-of-network charges.
Consedine and Wolf instructed UPMC and Highmark to rerun joint advertisements from early 2012, which informed seniors that the contract expirations won't affect their in-network access to UPMC.
“This message is necessary to mitigate a conflicting message issued by Highmark and UPMC that may tend to confuse Medicare beneficiaries,” the letter states.
UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the hospital network has “tried to get Highmark to reissue a joint Medicare ad, and they have so far refused to do so.”
Highmark, which has about 200,000 Medicare Advantage consumers in the region, won't issue such a statement until UPMC agrees to extend contracts for seniors, which must be renewed each year, until 2020, spokeswoman Kristin Ash said.
The insurer believes that its ads are not negative and don't need to stop, Ash said.
“They focus on the need for the parties to work together to establish a more constructive relationship and on affordable access to care,” she said.
Wood said UPMC is “more than glad to work with the task force to determine what ads are objectionable, misleading, false and should be discontinued.” But, he added, “our ads have been factually correct.”
In their letter, Consedine and Wolf warned that “continued unnecessary and negative advertising and statements by either party will be viewed as an aggravating factor for any potential future action taken by the Commonwealth.”
Highmark, the state's largest insurer and owner of the second-largest hospital network in Western Pennsylvania, wants to renew contracts and has said in its advertising that UPMC plans to close off its hospitals to Highmark members starting in 2015.
UPMC last month accused Highmark in a federal lawsuit of making false claims in the ads, and asked that the commercials be stopped. Highmark has said it would fight the lawsuit.
UPMC's ads have said Highmark will force patients who want to go to UPMC into the Allegheny Health Network, Highmark's hospital system formed this year with the acquisition of West Penn Allegheny Health System.
Corbett's task force, made up of officials from the departments of Insurance and Health, asked UPMC and Highmark to submit copies of advertising and other marketing material for review, Insurance Department spokeswoman Rosanne Placey said.
Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Proposed rule on noise limits for oil, gas sites in Pa. pleases none
- Project to remedy Rostraver coal refuse slurry ponds beside popular trail
- Energy Spotlight: Jaime Johnson
- Bird flu ravaging commercial flocks remains mysterious
- Meadows Casino, Tanger Outlets seek to hire hundreds in Washington County
- Finding funding can be hard for ‘social enterprises’
- Buffett fires back at unusual criticism as he marks 50 years at helm of Berkshire Hathaway
- The CEO of U.S. Steel says more jobs likely will be cut
- Health insurance refund program underfunded, report finds
- Small businesses still in recession