Thursday, August 25, 2011

State officials are weighing in with force

Today the first in a series of meetings and hearings held by state officials regarding the Highmark-UPMC provider contract will be held in the Allegheny County Courthouse - Gold Room. It is expected to last from 9:30 a.m - 5 p.m. so it seems that we can expect a great deal of testimony and dialogue. If we were to predict how the day might play out based on Rep. Anthony DeLuca's comments in the Tribune Review yesterday, I would say that the the tension level will be high to say the least. State officials in the legislature and the administration are not taking the issue lightly:
Calling the standoff a "crisis," Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, said a hearing planned for Thursday morning in the Allegheny County Courthouse should help state legislators figure out what they need to do to get the state's largest health insurer and hospital network to restart talks on a contract that is set to expire in about 10 months...
"They might not want to negotiate, but we could come up with legislation that might not make them happy," he said. "So they should be careful what they wish for. That's not a threat, but our first job as legislators is to protect the people. (Trib - Alex Nixon)
Folks might recall that over the past few years I have been vocal when it comes to the questionable nonprofit status of Highmark and UPMC. In April 2010 I sponsored legislation to curb foreign outsourcing by nonprofits in our Commonwealth:
"Not only are healthcare costs in our region higher than any other metropolitan region of a similar size, but the profits are being invested overseas instead of locally,” said the Senator in a statement...
Ferlo continued, “Institutions that are located in our Commonwealth, and outsourcing positions to overseas companies while benefitting from tax exempt status, have ceased acting solely in the best interest of Pennsylvanian citizens and violated their purely charitable status. If these corporations are going to act like a for-profit operation then we should deal with them like one.” (PG)
And from the outset of the WPAHS consolidation, I have always pointed to the bigger picture in terms of the dysfunctional United States healthcare financing system:

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, whose district includes Bloomfield, called the consolidation "obviously devastating for the employees who will lose their jobs" but said West Penn could not continue operating at a loss...
"I think the for-profit nature of the health care industry is somewhat to blame and the fact that we don't have a rational system" for deploying scarce health care resources, he said, citing UPMC's plans to build a hospital near the West Penn Forbes Regional Campus in Monroeville...
"Does anybody really consider UPMC as a nonprofit institution with their tentacles extended all around the world?" he asked. (PG - Steve Twedt)
I encourage you to set aside some time to attend these hearings and my Town Hall meeting on September 8. My colleagues in the General Assembly deserve credit for their work on this issue. They have seen the writing on the wall and will be seeking answers to this crisis.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Public Comments to County Council

On August 3, 2011 Allegheny County Council held a public hearing to discuss the current conflict and contract dispute between UPMC and Highmark. County Council President Jim Burn and his colleagues deserve credit for holding this informative public forum, which provided us with a snapshot of the two party's respective arguments. Links to these comments are provided here at UPMC vs. Highmark.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Event Announcement!

            UPMC vs. Highmark has a lot of people asking “how can nonprofits act this way?” In other words, what is PA Act 55 of 1997 – The Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act – and how do these multi-billion dollar entities qualify? The community needs answers now more than ever.

            Please mark your schedule and bring your voices, friends, frustrations, constructive criticism and creative ideas. I hope that this event will be an opportunity for the community to begin to develop a collaborative way forward.


Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this blog is to provide insight and direction for grass roots citizen action in health care advocacy, particularly in Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region.  When it comes to health care in our region the issues before us are great and many, complicated and contradictory, economic and human. One thing is certain - we should all have the right to high quality, affordable health care.

We as a region are experiencing a moment unlike any other in recent history, with our dominant health care provider and health insurance provider at interminable odds. The stakes are particularly high because the feuding parties represent three of the ten largest employers in Allegheny County, and account for how the vast majority of our population receives and pays for health care services. 

There are five UPMC and WPAHS hospitals in the Senate district that I represent, and my constituents are beside themselves with the uncertainty of where they will turn for their health care needs. At the same time, informed citizens from every walk of life are beginning to see the UMPC vs. Highmark battle as a blessing in disguise that has exposed the failures of our local health care and health insurance markets. 

 There are a number of significant issues that impact the costs of coverage and care in our region, including: tax exempt status for our dominant health insurer and providers, Certificate of Need (CON), Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) implementation, unreasonable insurance rate increases, Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA), “Conversion” legislation and the distribution of charitable assets... will grapple with these subjects and more within the context of the current conflict. I encourage citizens at the grass-roots level to regularly visit this blog as a place to learn and share your health care experiences or perspectives. My hope is that the community will gain direction for its advocacy efforts, and affirmation in the right to high quality, affordable health care for all.