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2 PA Lawmakers Criticize UPMC for Opposition Campaign

A week before the Pennsylvania House Health Committee holds a hearing on legislation to force all not-for-profit health care insurers and care providers to open their services to all insurance holders, not just their own, UPMC launched a campaign to defeat the measures.

Mailers were sent to at least three legislative districts in western Pennsylvania and robocalls were received across the state asking recipients to urge their lawmakers to reject the legislation.

The two prime sponsors of HB 1621 and 1622 Monday responded to the campaign saying UPMC shouldn’t be using money it gets from tax breaks and from state funding for “political purposes.”

Representative Dan Frankel, (D-Allegheny), one of two prime sponsors of HB 1621 and 1622, says the UPMC campaign of mailers and robocalls attacking Christiana’s and his legislation tries to shift the focus from access to health care.

“Our motives are patients, not politics,” Frankel said. “We want to strengthen health care access for patients and more importantly we want to see better health care outcomes.  We want to foster genuine competition not only among insurance companies but also among health care providers.”

Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), the other main sponsor, says the personal attacks in the mailers and robocalls won’t get him or Frankel to “stand down.”

“I see this as an attempt to send a message to the other 201 legislators that ‘if you support this bill, these type of actions will be used against you,’" Christiana said.

“It was like shooting something over the bow,” said Frankel. “That’s just not activity a nonprofit purely public charity should be engaged in.”

Christiana says the timing of this campaign is interesting considering the House Health Committee will hold hearings on the legislation next week.  He said they want an open discussion among all interested parties about whether the health care market consolidation will continue.

“If these dominant providers go unchecked, they are able to be in the insurance business and the provider business and they’re able to restrict access, long term are we going to have a system where people can’t get the care they want and need — that’s a pretty scary thought.”

Frankel says the legislation is all about competition:  among insurers and among providers.” That is what UPMC is trying to prevent, they do not want to be going head-to-head with other providers because that, I think, will expose  the high cost of their system that is responsible for making health care in western Pennsylvania one of the most expensive places in the United States to get health care.”

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood did not reply to requests for comment prior to publication, but the health system earlier sent an email to about 7,000 employees describing the legislation as “ government intervention at its worst, with a legislator choosing a winner in what should be a competitive market of hospitals and insurers.”

Frankel acknowledged that he has received “a couple hundred of the canned emails” from UPMC employees opposing the legislation.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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