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The Highmark-West Penn deal: Can Paul do it?

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Perhaps lost in the news that the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance has approved insurance giant Highmark Inc.'s $1.1 billion takeover of beleaguered West Penn Allegheny Health System is this backstory:

It was a decade ago that John Paul, then the second-most-powerful man in the UPMC universe (second only to UPMC chieftain Jeff Romoff) suddenly was on a “sabbatical.” Mr. Paul, then in his early 50s, cited burnout — 30 years of working 16- to 18-hour days, seven days a week.

But two months into what was supposed to be a six-month break, UPMC said Paul, credited with some of the hospital behemoth's greatest successes, would not be back. His return would not have served his best interests or those of UPMC, Mr. Romoff said at the time. Concentration of such vast duties in a single person could be detrimental, he said.

Fast-forward to Monday. Paul, who for the past two years has led Highmark's network building, in direct competition with UPMC, will retain that position but also will lead both the West Penn Allegheny Health System and Allegheny Health Network, the new umbrella organization.

A decade later and a decade older, John Paul is back in the thick of things. Nobody doubts his credentials. And we wish him the best. But past being prologue, it is not unreasonable to ask if he's up to the task.

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