PA Health Care Must Not Be Tainted by Politics

A column by Senator Don White

It appears Attorney General Josh Shapiro has decided headlines mean more than solutions in his newly filed suit against UPMC.  Yes, there is no doubt that government must ensure that UPMC and Highmark compete fairly and in ways that benefit their patients and policyholders.

But the Attorney General’s lawsuit is a bit late to the party.  He is promoting himself – not the consumers he professes to protect – by trying to assign himself unprecedented powers to set the rates and terms for not just UPMC and Highmark, but also every hospital and insurer statewide.  We can debate the merits of policy – but what shouldn’t be considered, much less debated, is whether a state attorney general with no experience in health care should appoint himself as the sole arbitrator of all hospital-insurer negotiations.

I’m from western Pennsylvania and I have a long history with hospitals and insurers in the region.  It wasn’t long ago that residents in my area were confronted with a monopoly in both the health insurance and health provider marketplaces. 

Fortunately, that has changed. 

The insurance market is strong and stable, with consumers having choices between Highmark, UPMC and other major national insurers like Aetna, Cigna and United. 

And, the hospitals in our area have gotten better.  In fact, the separation of Highmark and UPMC has enabled Alleghany Health System to become a top-quality outfit and it can finally provide a real competitive option to the UPMC network of hospitals.

If Attorney General Shapiro gets his way, the Allegheny Health System will be destroyed and UPMC will be left unchecked in dominating the health care delivery market in western Pennsylvania. 

This cannot occur.

We have real choices among top-notch insurers and top-notch hospitals and our insurance rates have stabilized.  There is more to be done, and ensuring that UPMC and Highmark compete in ways that preserve and promote quality health care and health insurance for all of us must be at the top of that list.

Achieving this objective has taken real work and more real work must continue.  Attorney General Shapiro will certainly score a few short-lived political points as he plans his run for higher office.  But with his latest stunt, the Attorney General is attempting to become Pennsylvania’s health czar and thereby unwittingly guarantee UPMC has a monopoly in providing health care in western Pennsylvania. 

Many of us – in both parties and in the executive and legislative branches – have worked for years to promote better hospitals and health insurance in western Pennsylvania.  Let’s not lose that to the furtherance of a politician’s aspirations.

As we prepare for the final stages of the Highmark/UPMC split, we must insist these not-for-profit entities make sure that it is smooth and fair.  Those insured by one of the entities while getting treatment at the other must be assisted during this unsettling time.  The courts will hear the Attorney General’s allegations – but let’s hope his solution — which is to appoint himself the sole judge and jury of all hospital-insurer disputes — is soundly rejected in favor of real leadership on this difficult issue.

 

Senator Don White has served as Chairman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee since 2007.

 

Contact:         Carlton Logue             clogue@pasen.gov