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Members Warn Against “Catastrophic Consequences” if Highmark-West Penn Allegheny Health System Affiliation is Denied

Union nurses and healthcare workers employed by West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) presented testimony before the Pennsylvania Insurance Department today in support of the proposed affiliation between Highmark and WPAHS.

“Approving the affiliation between Highmark and West Penn Allegheny Health System is the key to preserving 10,000 jobs, lowering healthcare costs, and guaranteeing that patients in western Pennsylvania have a meaningful choice in their health care,” said Neal Bisno, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

WPAHS operates 5 hospitals in communities throughout the greater Pittsburgh community and employs nearly 10,000 residents of the region, more than 2,000 of them members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

“Make no mistake – if approval of this affiliation is delayed or denied, the results for the community would be devastating,” said Bisno.  He pointed to the fact that the loss of WPAHS’ jobs, apart from the pain caused to caregivers and their families, could immediately drive up the unemployment rate in metropolitan Pittsburgh from 7.6% to 8.5%.

Bob Sylvester, a registered nurse and SEIU Healthcare PA at Allegheny Valley Hospital told the Commissioner, “I’ve experienced firsthand what happens to a community when good jobs disappear.  I don’t want to see that happen to the communities that depend on WPAHS, including Natrona Heights where I work.”

“In the healthcare environment today our health system can’t stay viable without this support from Highmark,” said Kim Bonnaure, a coder in Canonsburg General Hospital’s emergency room and another member of SEIU Healthcare PA.

Bisno reminded the Insurance Commissioner that WPAHS is “literally the only institution standing in the way of UPMC’s establishing a virtual monopoly over hospital services in this city and county,” and pointed out that WPAHS caregivers provide high quality care at a per-case cost that is 19% less than UPMC, according to data from Medicare and the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4).   “There is little question that UPMC has used its market dominance to drive up the price of services and the cost of healthcare for all western Pennsylvanians,” said Bisno.  “One can only imagine how healthcare costs would skyrocket if UPMC were to increase its dominance even further.”

“My hope is to see West Penn Allegheny Health System and Highmark work together to improve health care as we know it today.  With a sound financial base, great medical and business minds, devoted employees, and a strong community, we are only limited by our imaginations,” said Diane Lataille, a 36-year registered nurse and SEIU Healthcare PA member at Allegheny General Hospital.

“Competition lends itself to increasing excellent care,” said Darlene Benny, a registered nurse and SEIU Healthcare PA member at Allegheny Valley Hospital. “Healthy competition between us and UPMC will push our region’s health care infrastructure to be more innovative, more efficient and a better value for southwest Pennsylvanians.”

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