Ward Calls for Senate Hearings on Impact of Consumers

Greensburg, PA – At a news conference held today with Excela Westmoreland Hospital in the background, Pennsylvania State Senator Kim Ward (R-39) outlined her plan calling for Senate hearings on the potential consumer impact resulting from the contractual disputes between two of the region’s largest health insurance providers – Highmark BC/BS and UMPC. “I’m not picking a side in this dispute. We are fortunate to have both of these excellent providers, but I am asking them both to get back to their mission of taking care of the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania who depend on them for their healthcare,” stated Ward.

Ward’s call for the hearings has come about as tensions between the two major insurers in Southwestern Pennsylvania continue to escalate.  In June, Highmark BC/BS announced their plans to purchase the West Penn Allegheny Health System.  That move was followed by an announcement by UMPC stating they will terminate their relationship with Highmark in June of 2012 when their contract expires at all UMPC owned hospitals and medical facilities.

“There is a possibility for either insurance company to acquire hospitals in counties outside of Allegheny, as is already the case in some areas of Western Pennsylvania, and then shut the door on patients who are insured by the other.  This could severely hurt access and limit medical options for consumers which are served by one major hospital system, such as Excela” stated Ward.  “As Vice Chairperson of the Senate Banking and Insurance, and a member of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, I have put a formal request to both Chairmen to begin having hearings on the potential impact these moves will have on Western Pennsylvania consumers outside of Allegheny County,” Ward continued.

During the news conference, Ward announced that she has already been in contact with the State’s Insurance Department to determine the level of oversight by the department and was told they are trying to mediate but need to wait until the existing contract between UPMC and Highmark expires.

“There are so many moving parts with this dispute that it calls for an all hands on deck approach from the State,” stated Ward.  The Department of Health and the Office of Attorney General will be invited to testify and answer questions related to their respective roles and how each may be involved in this over the next few months.

“I am not looking for the government to stifle a company’s business plan to own and operate a hospital. My concern is that patients in outlying southwestern Pennsylvania counties, like Westmoreland, will have less access because they will be limited to whatever insurance company owns the hospital in the community,” she said.

“Hearings will give consumers a voice during these tense negotiations between the two companies.  As legislators, we have a duty to gather as much information as possible and make informed decisions that both ensure the integrity of our health care system, and preserve a free market,” she finished.

Contact:  Tom Aikens
(724) 600-7002