Last year, Rev. Lauran Webb, a retired Pittsburgh police officer and Highmark insurance customer, had a tumor removed. Although the tumor turned out not to be cancerous, it helped Webb’s doctor at UPMC Mercy hospital diagnose her with another condition and ultimately provide care that saved her life.
However, if Webb’s experience had occurred after 2014, she wouldn’t have been able to see her doctor at Mercy. Over the past few months, UPMC has been airing a series of television advertisements in an attempt to explain why UPMC will not continue to treat customers with Highmark insurance at in-network rates after 2014.
“I would never be able to afford it. I would not have been able to go to Mercy,” Webb said of a future where Highmark customers will have to pay higher rates to see UPMC doctors. “I was glad I had options. I don’t want to be stuck where I have to go to a specific doctor. I just hate to see things narrowed down to where patients don’t have a choice.”
UPMC has also been airing another series of commercials presenting a hypothetical situation in which the healthcare nonprofit would have to close both Shadyside and Mercy hospitals. The commercials are in response to Highmark’s plan to bring in 41,000 patients to its healthcare facilities in Allegheny Health Network.
“The ad campaign aims to explain why UPMC cannot have a contract with Highmark,” said Gloria Kreps, UPMC director of media relations. “It illustrates that for Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network to achieve viability, it will need to steer 41,000 of UPMC’s patients, annually, into its own hospital system, which is the equivalent of the number of annual admissions at both Shadyside and Mercy combined. Hypothetically, the impact of that would be the loss of nearly 11,000 jobs, which is the total number of employees who work at Shadyside and Mercy, combined.”
“The community wants stability in the health care marketplace and the security of knowing that individuals and families with Highmark Health coverage will continue to have affordable access to a facility or doctor of their choice. Western Pennsylvanians deserve a market where UPMC and Highmark both focus on what is in the best interests of the communities they serve,” said Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger when asked about UPMC’s ads. “No single health care organization or institution should be allowed to, or have the power to, limit access for millions of people to facilities that are community assets.”
Between the rhetoric being thrown around in the UPMC vs Highmark battle, the community is having a hard time keeping up. The ads have caused a knee-jerk reaction for many, leading some to believe the hospitals could actually close and others to worry about where they will get their care after 2014.
“The ads make you realize the games UPMC plays. Are we suppose to feel sorry for them,” said Andrea Watson Lindsey in response to the New Pittsburgh Courier’s Facebook post asking for reactions to the UPMC commercials. “I don’t think it will be a big impact; maybe Highmark will buy them. Competition is good.”
“I have had all my recent procedures done at Mercy. I am with Highmark,” said Hillarie White. “I don’t know what I will be doing.”
“This is no surprise,” said Kimberly Huddleston Neely. “Now that they have a secure hospital monopoly in the city, why do they need to keep them open.
They only wanted Mercy in order to build their empire anyway.”
In related news, Highmark and UPMC are currently facing an antitrust lawsuit alleging they are working to prohibit health insurance competition in the region in an effort to increase insurance rates.