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Highmark keeps 43,000 school employees in contract fight with UPMC

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About 43,000 public school employees and their families in Allegheny County will lose in-network access to UPMC and the hospital giant's doctors starting on Jan. 1.

The Allegheny County Schools Health Insurance Consortium, which negotiates health coverage for 42 school districts, said it will keep Highmark Inc. as its exclusive insurance carrier through June 30, 2018, despite the pending expiration of the insurer's contract with UPMC at the end of this year.

“Our objective is to ensure that we get the best value for our member schools and Highmark provides that for us,” Jan Klein, the consortium's chairwoman, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We have had a longstanding partnership with Highmark, and we believe that Highmark will continue to offer the best health care coverage and service for our 43,000 members and their families,” Klein said.

In addition to every school district in Allegheny County except City of Pittsburgh Schools and North Allegheny School District, the consortium provides coverage for four vocational-technical schools, two community colleges and two intermediate units.

The consortium is the second major employer in the region to publicly announce plans to stay with Highmark after the contract ends. Allegheny County last month said its 15,000 employees and their families will remain covered by the state's largest health insurer for the next two years, and receive an $10 million-a-year discount from Highmark.

UPMC is refusing to negotiate a new contract with Highmark because the insurer created a competing hospital system, Allegheny Health Network, last year. When the contract ends, Highmark insurance subscribers will have to pay higher out-of-network charges to go to most of UPMC's 20 hospitals and 3,500 doctors.

“We are confident that the Allegheny Health Network, local community hospitals and doctors, and the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield network provide our members and their families exceptional and extensive options to meet their health care needs,” Klein said.

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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