Senators Offer Bi-Partisan Bill To Give Highmark Customers Access To UPMC

In just nine months, Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield subscribers will lose low-cost access to UPMC doctors and facilities.

On Monday a Republican lawmaker teamed up with his Democratic colleague to prevent that.

But will Harrisburg act in time?

With UPMC digging in its heels, saying no way will they negotiate with Highmark, two lawmakers say it’s time for the state legislature to act with legislation to guarantee Highmark customers access to UPMC.

“Consumers will not be denied care or, worse, abandoned mid-treatment simply because they hold one kind of insurance over another,” said PA Sen. Randy Vulakovich, a Republican.

Vulakovich teamed up with Pa. Sen. Jay Costa, a Democrat, to require both UPMC and Highmark to open up their respective health care facilities to each other.

“In my view, I think they can co-exist and they should co-exist and allow everyone in our region, the western part of the commonwealth, the opportunity to have access to the physicians and the facilities that they deem appropriate and feel most comfortable with,” added Costa.

It’s similar to bi-partisan bills offered in the House by PA Reps. Dan Frankel, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, and Jim Christiana, a Beaver Republican.

But any chance of passage?

No, says PA Sen. Don White, who chairs the insurance committee and opposes a legislative fix.

“Since when anywhere in this country do you force one company to do business with another company who doesn’t want to do business with you,” said White.

Last month, White and Senate Republican leader Joe Scarnati sent this letter to Highmark, warning them not to push for legislation.
Vulakovich is not deterred.

“They are two very powerful, influential people, but they are one of a group.”

But UPMC spokesman Paul Wood called this legislation “stillborn” — Costa took exception to that.

“To me, it’s typical of the UPMC rhetoric about how they want to characterize things, in my view, in a very offensive way,” noted Costa.

Lawmakers said Governor Corbett could help — as he did two years ago — but so far Corbett has not engaged in this dispute.

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