Outliers has long known that competition among Pittsburgh's health systems and insurers has been fierce and caustic, with skirmishes between major players spilling into courtrooms and headlines.
Now the combative rivalry between UPMC, the city's dominant health system, and Highmark, an insurer that recently acquired Pittsburgh's smaller and struggling hospital operator, has provoked the ire of Pennsylvania's governor and top state regulators, who described the organizations' negative advertising campaigns as having an “unprofessional negative tone.”
The state's insurance commissioner and health secretary, in a letter to the rivals, said UPMC and Highmark campaigns “appear to be intended to drive consumers to choose their health insurance and health provider based on fear rather than a balanced, factual understanding of their options.”
A task force, created last month by Pennsylvania's governor and the two state regulatory agencies, has launched a review of the ads, according to the Health and Insurance departments' letter. Task force officials have talked candidly with both systems about their ads. Nonetheless, discussions so far have not alleviated concerns about the unprofessional and potentially inaccurate marketing.
More of the same, the regulators said, “will be viewed as an aggravating factor for any potential future action taken by the commonwealth.”
The letter ended by chiding both to use better judgment. Time will tell if the task force will succeed in tamping down the rivalry.
Paul Wood, a spokesman for UPMC, said the 11-hospital system met with the task force to review the content and tone of its advertising and will continue to do so. Wood defended UPMC's ads as accurate.
The system will continue to work with regulators to “try to lower the temperature,” he said.
Aaron Billger, Highmark's spokesman, said in a statement that its latest ads were a response to misleading statements by UPMC and its rival's unwillingness to negotiate a new contract. “Highmark stands ready to work with UPMC to do what's best and right for the people or this region.”
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