On the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the NAACP Pittsburgh Unit, held a press event announcing their support for a pair of state house bills written to address the coming break between UPMC and Highmark at the end of 2014.
The bills’ bi-partisan sponsors State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, and Jim Christiana, R- Beaver County, joined Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker for the event in the Hill District.
Parker invoked poet Emma Lazarus’ inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty as she voiced her support for House Bills 1621 and 1622, which would require hospitals to accept all insurance companies.
“The promise of Ellis Island is neither a race promise, a gender promise, a preferred religion promise nor a class promise. It is an American promise to be had by all,” she said. “We have assembled here to remind the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Highmark and UPMC that equal access to quality healthcare is an American promise to be had by all.”
Both bills have been stuck in committee since their introduction, and with no companion bill appearing in the state Senate, neither appears to be headed for a vote any time soon.
Frankel said he is looking beyond the UPMC Highmark fight to concerns over the increasing consolidation of insurers, doctors’ offices and hospitals, which could eliminate competition.
The companion bills would require hospital and physician-owned practices that “are part of an integrated delivery network”—such as UPMC–to contract with “any willing insurer.”
If UPMC and Highmark couldn’t reach an agreement, the bills would also force them into a contract through binding arbitration. How, and by whom, rates would be set is not specified.
Not surprisingly, UPMC issued a statement when the bills were first introduced in October calling them “radical.”
“No state has ever enacted radical “any-willing-insurer” legislation that would require a hospital to give an in-network contract to whatever insurer wants one and on whatever terms the government or some outside party specifies.”
Highmark, on the other hand, supports the legislation as the means to manage costs and “protect the community, preserve provider choice and maintain continuity of care.”
Parker said she held the event because UPMC’s stance would deny access to many African-Americans.
It was fantastic to have to the two representatives here. They are trying to galvanize support. But my point is access. If people don’t have access, it’s a civil right violation,” she said. “You should be able to go to any doctor you please; in-network, out-of-network, it shouldn’t matter. Access for community its essential.”
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