Attorney general to monitor UPMC, Altoona hospital merger

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has no formal objections to the Altoona Regional Health System becoming part of the UPMC network, but says she will monitor the transaction.

Kathleen Kane

Kathleen Kane

Kane also cautioned that UPMC “has every obligation to keep the Altoona facility accessible to all members of the public, without qualification.” This is a reference to the ongoing dispute between UPMC and Highmark, which is the dominant health insurer in Blair County. Highmark Health Services, the insurance subsidiary of Highmark, and UPMC have thus far not worked out a contract for the Altoona Regional Health System.

UPMC officials have said they will not extend the contract with Highmark beyond 2014 now that Highmark is building a competing health care delivery network, but they also have said they will negotiate with all insurers in more remote areas such as Altoona.

William Winkenwerder

William Winkenwerder Jr.

In a letter to the editor published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Highmark CEO William Winkenwerder Jr. wrote that “Highmark Health wants a multi-year contract with UPMC – which, by the way, we believe has very good hospitals and physicians – because we believe it is in the community’s best interest.”

In a statement, Kane said that “Charitable hospitals are community assets paid for by the public through donations, tax exemption subsidy and various government subsidies. Therefore, all residents should have access to these facilities regardless of their insurance carrier.”

If Highmark and UPMC cannot reach an agreement in Altoona, Kane said she will consider all options to guarantee the public’s access to its healthcare facilities. Kane announced that any Highmark client denied services at UPMC Altoona should contact the health care section of the attorney general’s office.

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