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Survey of large employers suggest Highmark could suffer without UPMC contract

By Alex Nixon, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 15--A business group's survey of some of the largest employers in Western Pennsylvania suggests how much Highmark Inc.'s health insurance business could suffer if it loses a contract with UPMC at the end of the year.

Twenty-eight percent of the companies that responded to a survey by the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health said if the contract wasn't renewed, they would replace their Highmark health plans with a carrier that will have full access to UPMC next year.

But 53 percent said they will offer their employees a choice of Highmark and a plan from Aetna Inc., Cigna Corp., United Healthcare or UPMC Health Plan. -- all of which will have full, in-network access to UPMC doctors and hospitals when Highmark's contract with the health system ends Dec. 31.

The limited survey was answered by 52 percent of the group's more than 90 members. Many of the region's largest employers, such as Bayer Corp., Consol Energy Inc. and PPG Industries, are members of the coalition.

While some employers may be switching away from the state's largest health insurer, the survey showed that Pittsburgh Business Group on Health members aren't happy about it. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they think UPMC should be legally required to contract with Highmark.

"The survey reflects the marketplace and underscores the continuing and overwhelming public sentiment that Highmark and UPMC should be working together," Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said.

While bills have been introduced in Harrisburg to force UPMC to contract with Highmark, two powerful state senators last month said they would not support the legislation.

Asked whether Highmark was concerned about what the results of the survey may mean for Highmark's business, Billger declined to comment.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the survey backs up UPMC's argument that people can keep in-network access to the region's biggest hospital network by switching insurance providers.

"Virtually the entire commercial market in Western Pennsylvania will have the choice of affordable in-network access to UPMC" by switching, he said.

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UPMC has refused to contract with Highmark since the insurer purchased West Penn Allegheny Health System and formed Allegheny Health Network as a competing hospital system. Without a contract, Highmark members will have to pay costly out-of-network rates to be treated by UPMC doctors and hospitals starting in 2015.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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(c)2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

Visit The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) at www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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