The Highmark-UPMC ad war is tarnishing the reputations of both institutions, diverting dollars that would be better spent on health care, according to the president of the Allegheny County Medical Society.
“The money that a nonprofit spends on advertising is money not spent on health care,” Dr. Amelia Pare said. “They could’ve spent that money to reduce my premiums.”
“No one is going to win this.”
Highmark Inc., the region’s biggest health insurer and UPMC, which dominates the hospital market, have been amping up advertising campaigns since spring. A contract between Highmark and UPMC expires next year, which Highmark would like to renew so its members could continue to use UPMC doctors and hospitals as in-network providers.
UPMC has rejected the idea of a new contract, saying Highmark’s only intention is to steer patients into its fledgling Allegheny Health Network of doctors and hospitals, which competes with the much larger UPMC network.
UPMC officials say the advertising campaign has been successful because it has started people talking about big changes that are in store for the region’s health insurance market after the contract expires Dec. 31, 2014. A handful of other commercial carriers have increased their Pittsburgh presence after UPMC opened access to all of its hospitals, which has helped depress health insurance rates overall.
Estimates were not available on how much was being spent on the advertising campaign, but Pare said each institution had more pressing needs.
“Holy smokes, there’s so many more important things they should be spending their money on for the vitality of the community and the bottom line,” she said. “At least with an election, it’s over by November. People in Pittsburgh are tired.”