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UPMC mailer irks Christiana

By J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 10--State Rep. Jim Christiana said Monday that UPMC overstepped its bounds with a recent mailer to voters that criticizes him for co-sponsoring legislation that would force the health-care giant to contract with competing health plans.

"It's sent to clearly attack me -- to try to send a message that anybody who's going to oppose their effort to deny certain people insurance, they're going to go after them," said Christiana, R-15, Beaver.

UPMC's mailer apparently landed in mailboxes Friday and Saturday across Christiana's district, although he said voters in the districts of state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-14, Big Beaver, and state Rep. Mark Mustio, R-44, North Fayette Township, also received them.

Over a photo of a smiling Christiana, the mailer references the Affordable Care Act by saying, "If you don't like what's going on in Washington, wait until you hear what some state politicians, like representative Jim Christiana, want to do with your health care."

On the other side, it claims Christiana's bill, House Bill 1621, would reduce competition and "take away choices for consumers." It also exhorts voters to call Christiana's Center Township district office to lodge their opposition to the bill.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-23, Pittsburgh, seeks to settle the feud between Highmark and UPMC by requiring integrated delivery networks -- health plans that also have hospitals, such as Highmark, UPMC and Geisinger Health System -- to contract with any willing insurance company.

The Allegheny Health Network, which was formed after Highmark purchased West Penn Allegheny Health System, has said it will work with any insurance carrier, including UPMC Health Plan, willing to contract with it.

UPMC, however, is fighting the bill with a spokesman Monday calling it "a massive government intrusion" that is "designed solely to protect Highmark."

Paul Wood, UPMC's vice president and chief communications officer, also said the bill has no industry support other than Highmark. He said the bill would be "unprecedented" because no other state has passed anything similar.

Wood said the bill is anti-competitive, regressive and would "extinguish the insurance competition that's beginning to develop here in western Pennsylvania after Highmark's monopoly."

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As for the mailer, Wood said there was nothing wrong with informing Christiana's constituents about his political dealings. "It's a very appropriate course of action to communicate directly to his constituents," Wood said.

Wood said UPMC has not sent a mailer to Frankel's constituents.

After hosting a news conference with Frankel in Harrisburg on Monday denouncing UPMC's mailer, Christiana said by phone that UPMC gets millions of dollars in tax breaks annually, "begs" for public money in Harrisburg and then seeks to deny access "to those same taxpayers who fund their organization."

Christiana said the mailer and robo-calls being made across the state are meant as "scare tactics" to keep other legislators from backing the bill. "This year, (UPMC) is saying, 'Retaliation will be in order,'" Christiana said.

Christiana said he wants Republican leaders to denounce UPMC's attack, which comes before a House health committee hearing on the bill next week.

"It's a lack of taste. It's out of line," Christiana said. "Truly public entities shouldn't be spending resources on campaign mailers."

___

(c)2013 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)

Visit the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.) at www.timesonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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