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Let customers choose

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Highmark-Geisinger Health System disagreement in the middle of the state (“Geisinger bashes Highmark plan,” Aug. 22 and TribLIVE.com) at last makes clear what the issue is in these battles. Hospital systems, protected forever from price competition by the insurance system, will resist bitterly any new exposure to it.

We, the consumers, have to cheer for the insurer. Geisinger is not willing to reduce its charges for Highmark customers, so Highmark will pass on the decision-making to those customers. If customers consider Geisinger's services to be worth more, they can use them. If they don't, they can go elsewhere. What could be fairer?

And what could be better for the economy? Hospital charges have been going up and up in the absence of consumer choice based on price. Government price controls are clumsy, wrongheaded and ineffective overall. A somewhat freer market is a much better choice.

It is the obvious answer to the Highmark-UPMC feud. If UPMC insists on charging more to Highmark customers than other providers do, so be it; let Highmark pass on the choice to its customers and let them decide. UPMC may decide that it likes the customers' decisions, or it may not. Like the rest of the economic world, UPMC should find a way to live with it.

Jerry B. Fulmer

Upper St. Clair

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