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Senator says Highmark trying to lure patients from Excela

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Deborah Rice, Division President of Health Services and Executive Vice President Highmark, Inc. testifies at a hearing to be held at Westmoreland County Community College by the Senate Majority Policy Committee. The hearing aims to determine the impact of the battle between health care giants UPMC and Highmark on community health systems like Excela Health.

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By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, 8:24 p.m.

The fallout from the battle between health care giants Highmark Inc. and UPMC is “unfair” and will ultimately harm community-based hospitals such as Excela Health, state Sen. Kim Ward said on Wednesday.

The Hempfield Republican accused Highmark of dangling financial incentives in front of Excela physicians to lure patients to Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, part of the West Penn Allegheny Health System. Highmark is awaiting state approval of its $475 million deal to buy West Penn Allegheny.

Ward made the comments during a Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing at Westmoreland County Community College where the medical turf war and its impact on the region's smaller hospitals was discussed.

The senator was critical of what she called attempts by Highmark to recruit Excela physicians.

Highmark Executive Vice President Deborah Rice said that isn't true.

“We are not interested in moving patients away from community hospitals,” Rice said. “We've made it clear to Excela's leadership that Highmark has no plans to recruit physicians currently employed by Excela and we would like to work with them on partnerships with independent physicians.”

She said patients already are bypassing Excela.

“More and more care is migrating directly to Pittsburgh-based facilities that have high costs and are less convenient,” she said. “We estimate that medical care (worth) around $300 million (is) what is leaving Westmoreland County and moving to Pittsburgh.”

But Ward wasn't buying Rice's explanation.

“Although I have heard repeatedly, from Highmark in particular, that they want to work with the community hospitals, their actions behind the scenes — setting up shell companies to buy up property and physicians in the counties surrounding Allegheny — tell a different story,” Ward said.

Highmark has spent $32 million purchasing land in Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties to build medical malls.

After the hearing, Ward said Highmark also is using shell companies in Westmoreland County to purchase land and medical practices. “Everything's under a fake name,” she said. “Even the physicians are under a fake name.”

James Breisinger, chairman of the board of Greensburg-based Excela Health, said Excela would prefer to stay out of the struggle.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or

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