Highmark ad campaign urges consumers to push for hospital purchase approval
In an eleventh-hour push to win approval for its purchase of West Penn Allegheny Health System, Highmark Inc. started an advertising campaign warning consumers that they “could be paying a lot more for health care” if the deal does not go through.
Implicit in the television ads, which first aired in Western Pennsylvania on Friday, is that nearly bankrupt West Penn Allegheny won't survive without Highmark. And if that happens, the region's largest hospital network, UPMC, will be free to charge whatever it wants for medical services.
“Would you pay $10 for a gallon of milk?” the woman voicing the TV spot asks. “You would if there was only one grocery store.”
UPMC spokesman Paul Wood called the ad “comical and hypocritical,” adding that Highmark's monopoly over the health insurance market is bigger than UPMC's dominance of the hospital market.
“I think part of what they're doing is Highmark wants to distract attention away from its role as the monopoly insurer and all the unnecessary costs they've imposed unchecked on their policy holders,” Wood said.
Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said the ads “are about preserving consumer choice and preserving access to quality health care facilities.”
They direct consumers to a website, saveourhealthcarechoice.com, where they can send a message to the state Insurance Department in support of the hospital purchase before a public comment period ends on Friday.
The department has been reviewing Highmark's proposed $1.1 billion acquisition of five-hospital West Penn Allegheny since November 2011. On Monday, the department released reports from two independent consultants on the deal, one of the final steps before it issues a decision.
The consultants said there were significant risks and uncertainties with Highmark's plan to turn around the hospital system's finances. But if successful, a revitalized West Penn Allegheny would be beneficial for health care consumers in Western Pennsylvania, they said.
Highmark, which asked the department to make a decision by the end of the month, is not trying to pressure state regulators into approving the deal, Billger said.
“The ads are focused on harnessing the community's energies around the affiliation of West Penn Allegheny Health System,” Billger said.
The department has not said when it will decide.
If the deal is not approved by the end of the month, it could fall apart, leaving West Penn Allegheny and its 12,000 employees at the mercy of bondholders, who are owed about $710 million.
Under the deal, Highmark would buy out the bondholders at a discount of 87.5 cents on the dollar, or about $620 million.
That's in addition to $475 million Highmark has committed to the system, which the insurer plans to make the core of a new integrated health care system that would compete with UPMC.
Highmark's advertising campaign includes radio, print and online components in addition to the TV spots.
Billger could not say how much the state's largest health insurer is spending on the campaign.
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or email@example.com.
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.
- Rossi: At start, are Pens already finished?
- Morton, Pirates blank Red Sox in series opener
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger still hurting after hard hit from Ravens’ Upshaw
- Steelers notebook: RT Gilbert not in danger of losing his job
- Identical twins born at West Penn Hospital a rare medical marvel
- Penguins notebook: Martin not concerned about expiring contract
- City of Pittsburgh detective, 2 boys finalize adoption before judge
- Coach’s firing causes ruckus in Steel Valley
- Pirates notebook: Hurdle quiet on rotation plans
- Car, truck collide near Taco Bell in New Kensington
- Pennsylvania senator wants to arm school teachers, employees