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Highmark, Butler Health System reach multi-year deal

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Highmark and Butler Health System have renewed a contract that ensures Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield members will have access to the health system.

Highmark and Butler did not reveal details of the multi-year pact.

Both parties said that the new Affordable Care Act, which took effect Tuesday, did not affect the terms of the agreement.

“It makes community hospitals like Butler Health System even more important to the people we serve,” said Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger of the contract, which spells the insurer's reimbursement for services provided by the hospital. “They are critical partners for the Allegheny Health Network.”

The Allegheny Health Network includes Allegheny General and West Penn hospitals in Pittsburgh.

Butler Health System spokeswoman Connie Downs said she did not know how many of its patients are Highmark customers.

“We have patients who have Highmark insurance, but we also have contracted agreements with other insurance plans as well, including UPMC,” Downs said in a statement.

Pittsburgh-based UPMC, the region's largest health network, and Highmark, the region's largest insurer, have fought bitterly since June 2011, when Highmark decided to enter the hospital business though the Allegheny Health Network.

UPMC refused to renew contracts with Highmark that expire next year because it considers Highmark a competitor. Highmark and UPMC agreed to continue in-network access to UPMC services through 2014.

Legislation in Harrisburg to require hospitals to accept all insurance companies is aimed directly at the UPMC and Highmark Inc. dispute, but critics say the bills go far beyond the state's legitimate role in the health care marketplace.

Earlier this year, Highmark hired two neurologists from UPMC who work at Butler Memorial Hospital in the new PA Brain and Spine Institute.

Also, Butler Health and UPMC Cancer Center formed a joint-venture cancer center and acquired Butler Radiation Oncology Associates.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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