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UPMC snubs Dem policy hearing

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Saturday, May 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A UPMC physician stood against his employer Friday and urged the health care giant to enter into a commercial contract with health insurer Highmark Inc.

“Nonprofit UPMC is obligated to be a responsible steward to our hospitals honoring the needs of all citizens, not just the ones they choose,” Dr. Dennis Gabos told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee during a hearing at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Gabos, a cardiologist at UPMC Passavant in McCandless, was one of several people who spoke before the committee in support of legislation forcing a contract between the two health care rivals. UPMC has said it will not negotiate a reimbursement contract with Highmark when the current one expires on Dec. 31.

“The public debate over this issue has intensified,” said State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. “Those who need medical treatment should not be caught up in a dispute.”

UPMC had no comment. Officials did not send representatives to the hearing, drawing criticism from several members of the committee. Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, called UPMC's absence an “act of arrogance.”

Deborah Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Health Plans, told the committee it has a responsibility to intervene in the dispute. She said severing the UPMC-Highmark relationship will lead to higher costs and duplication of services.

“Without a contract, events may unfold in this region that will be disruptive, potentially placing consumers in the crossfire and making an already complicated and expensive health care system that much more difficult to navigate and afford,” Rice-Johnson said.

Two leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate, Don White of Indiana and Joseph Scarnati of Jefferson County, oppose any legislation forcing a Highmark-UPMC contract. Their support would be necessary to pass a bill.

Gabos, who has voiced concerns in the past, said he has heard from high-level UPMC physicians who agree with him.

“The vast majority of health care professionals do not agree with UPMC,” he said.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

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