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Patient advocates head to Harrisburg ahead of UPMC Supreme Court case

Written by Kathleen J. Davis/WESA | May 13, 2019 5:42 PM
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The signs marking the offices for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC, are seen on top of the U.S. Steel tower on Monday, April 3, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pittsburgh-area patients and advocates are heading to Harrisburg on Tuesday where they say they'll urge lawmakers to pass bills requiring that UPMC accept any insurance at in-network rates. Some patients anticipate skyrocketing health care costs if the split between Highmark Health and UPMC goes through on July 1.

"UPMC has not been elected by anyone to make decisions," said Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, whose office is helping organize the trip. "Our elected leadership in Harrisburg and locally should not turn over that decision-making to them."

Beth McCracken of Brookline is one of more than 50 people who have signed up for the trip. She said she has had Highmark insurance through her husband, but UPMC specialists have been treating her ear cancer since December. She said if the two health care entities part ways, she'll have to travel to Cleveland for care.

"I've looked into getting UPMC insurance on my own, but it's cost prohibitive," McCracken said. "I'd go into financial despair rather than medical despair."

It's been seven years since UPMC first announced it would cut ties with Highmark, after the latter acquired its own health care system. But a state-mandated consent decree has maintained in-network access for specific groups of patients, including cancer patients.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is suing UPMC in an effort to prevent the split indefinitely. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments with regard to whether the June 30th deadline can be extended.

UPMC declined to comment for this story. However, in recent legal filings, they said the Attorney General's office has exaggerated the impact the split would have on patients. 

90.5 WESA's Sarah Boden contributed to this report. 

This story originally appeared on WESA, which receives funding from UPMC and Highmark.

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