UPMC enlists employees in latest Highmark fight
By Alex Nixon
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
As public criticism grows about its pending divorce from Highmark Health Services, UPMC is asking thousands of its employees to campaign against legislation that could force it to renew reimbursement contracts with the insurer.
Mustering employees to lobby lawmakers is a common political tactic, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.
“It's fair game,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel, one of two House members planning to introduce the bill.
“I've experienced that sort of effort by other organizations trying to push their agendas,” Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said Monday. He said fewer than 10 UPMC employees contacted him, and he welcomes the chance to discuss health care issues with constituents.
UPMC, the largest private employer in the state with about 63,000 employees, sent emails to about 7,500 workers in the past two weeks, asking them to write to Frankel and Rep. Jim Christiana, a Beaver County Republican, telling them the bill they plan to introduce would hurt the hospital system, its patients and employees.
“This legislation is government intervention at its worst, with a legislator choosing a winner in what should be a competitive market of hospitals and insurers,” UPMC said in the employee email, which the Tribune-Review obtained.
About 7,000 UPMC workers in Frankel's district received the email on Aug. 20, UPMC's Wood said.
“This is what a lot of companies do,” Wood said.
About 500 employees living in Christiana's district received the email two weeks ago. Christiana said no UPMC workers subsequently wrote to him.
“They're concerned about their profitability, their market share,” he said of the health giant. “And I'm concerned about patient access and a long-term solution.”
Employees “can choose what to do, and we're giving them the tools to do so if they choose,” Wood said. A link in the email enables workers to automatically send their representatives a message.
Frankel and Christiana said they expect to introduce the any-willing-payer measure in late September or early October. Lawmakers return from summer recess on Sept. 23.
UPMC refuses to negotiate contracts that would set in-network payment rates for Highmark insurance customers using UPMC hospitals and doctors. When contracts expire at the end of 2014, Highmark customers will pay more costly out-of-network rates at UPMC.
The battle between UPMC and Highmark in recent weeks has played out in television advertisements, prompting Gov. Tom Corbett to tell the health giants to tone down their mudslinging. Several Democratic lawmakers publicly criticized the companies and UPMC's unwillingness to contract with Highmark.
UPMC is considering sending emails to employees living in the district of state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, a Shaler Republican, because he might author a Senate version of the bill, Wood said.
Vulakovich, a House member who replaced former Sen. Jane Orie in an August 2012 special election, could not be reached for comment.
He sponsored a House bill credited with forcing UPMC last year to extend its contracts with Highmark. The House in December 2011 overwhelmingly passed that legislation, which would have given the state Insurance Commissioner greater power to intervene in disputes between hospitals and insurers and force binding arbitration if they could not reach resolution.
The bill signaled willingness by the state's elected officials to intervene in the UPMC-Highmark dispute, and five months later the hospital system and insurer announced the contract extension through 2014. Their breakup began when Highmark agreed to purchase West Penn Allegheny Health System, UPMC's competitor. The deal closed in April, creating Allegheny Health Network.
Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or email@example.com.
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.
- Police say fellow cop arrested for drunk driving after coming to work intoxicated
- Civil justice system discourages transparency, experts say
- River users hoping the Ohio can earn state honors
- 50 ‘most valuable people’ honored at Stargell banquet
- Fans of former conservative radio hosts Quinn, Tennent support toy drive
- Newsmaker: Dr. James M. Rossetti
- Baldwin-Whitehall board hits ‘magical line of dissatisfaction’
- Contenders for governor court region
- 2 wounded in East Hills shooting
- Allegheny County police arrest 29 on drug charges in Pitcairn area
- Long-overdue memorial to region’s World War II vets opens