The Pittsburgh region will be buzzing with economic activity this year, especially for some of its biggest employers. This year is poised to be one of growth for the economic power houses of UPMC and Highmark. After years of legal wrangling, the two entities worked out a deal last year giving most Highmark customers in network access to UPMC doctors and hospitals for 10 years.
Pittsburgh Business Times reporter Paul Gough, who covers the health care sector, spoke recently with WESA’s Maria Scapellato about how competition between the two health care giants might play out this year.
[Their conversation was edited for length and clarity.]
Paul Gough: Over the last several years of court battles and consent decrees that had expired, you had a UPMC plan for your employer or a Highmark plan for your employer, or sometimes both depending on what your situation was and how big the company was. And, now that’s a lot less, for most people, you always have to say that, for most people, it’s a lot less stressful because Highmark customers will get in-network care through UPMC providers.
Maria Scapellato: So this fued, so to speak, is mainly in the rear view mirror. What will the focus be shifting to for these health care giants moving foward?
Gough: They are really health care giants. They are unlike a lot of markets in the United States. They own both insurance and providers, which makes it a very much more full-flavored competition. What they’ll be doing really is spending a lot of time increasing their provider offerings, their hospitals, their programs within hospitals.
I’d say the North Side, the North Hills actually is going to be a big a big battleground. Highmark, which owns Allegheny Health Network, is going to be opening a hospital called Wexford Hospital in the next year and a half and that will be their first really stake in the ground on the hospital side. And, then UPMC will probably counter them with other programs at Passavant and through their outpatient in Cranberry.
Scapellato: How is this going to impact employment?
Gough: They’re all going to be hiring. The neighborhood hospitals that AHN is building in Harmar, in McCandless, in Hempfield Township and also in Brentwood, they have about 150 employees because they’re 24 hour hospitals and emergency rooms. And, then Wexford will have more because they’ll have an OB ward there, which is the first new one to be built in a long time in Pennsylvania.
And then, there’s the three specialty hospitals that UPMC is building. One will be built in 2021. That’s at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Uptown. That’s a vision and rehab hospital. The other two, a heart and transplant hospital and a cancer hospital, the timeline has been extended a little bit so that will be in the next 4 to 5 years.
Scapellato: What does the building boom mean in terms of construction jobs in the region?
Gough: Actually, I think it’s gonna be a pretty big year for construction. You’ve got the Shell Cracker Plant which is taking 6,000 to 7,500 workers not just from the tri-state region, but also from around the country. You’ve got what’s happening at the airport, the new terminal.
You have all the hospitals that are being built and have been built. You have the Lower Hill District where the Civic Arena was. And, I think that’s another place where in the next year or two you’ll see a lot of construction. So, you’ve got a lot of construction jobs. They’ve been telling me that the union halls are pretty empty and with what I’ve seen, I agree.
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