HARRISBURG (KDKA) — Pittsburgh-area patients traveled to Harrisburg Tuesday, hoping for legislation that would compel UPMC and Highmark to work together.
A busload of local residents who will be harmed when UPMC refuses standard-price medical treatment to Highmark customers presented lawmakers in Harrisburg petitions signed by 10,000 residents with a simple message.
“You need to get the bills out of committee. Get the bills on the floor. Hear the facts from the patients. The patients are the ones hurting,” Richard Callender, mayor of Lower Burrell, said.
Callender had a double-lung transplant and now needs a new kidney.
“I just recently got a phone call that, not only would UPMC not cover my transplant for my kidney after June 30, but I’m cut off from my lung specialist also, so now I’ve got to travel to Cleveland in order to get coverage for my lung transplant,” he said.
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Led by County Controller Chelsa Wagner, constituents walked the Capitol corridors in search of lawmakers to vote for bills that would prevent UPMC from dropping Highmark customers on June 30.
“We’re considering this a lobby day where people can go and talk to the representatives from their individual districts, but also tell them their stories because we know that’s what’s so important,” Wagner said.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, of Squirrel Hill, has introduced legislation to require all medical facilities to accept all insurance plans, saying lawmakers and citizens spent the money to “help build Children’s Hospital, to help build Hillman Cancer Institute, to help build the Magee-Womens Cancer Research Institute. We’ve put our name behind that to get those, our kept grants to help build those facilities. They belong to our community.”
“We need to take back our hospitals. We need to take them back. We need to take back our hospitals. We paid for them with our hard-earned premiums,” Pennsylvania Rep. Tony DeLuca, of Penn Hills, said.
A KDKA survey found nearly 65% of those who responded would lose services, 83% say state government isn’t regulating insurance companies enough and only 7% say the government is doing enough to prevent UPMC’s actions.
“Something has to be done. We just can’t indiscriminately throw out hundreds of thousands of people off the health care system. It just can’t happen,” Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Kirtz, of Dravosburg, said.
“You know, I believe that I have colleagues here who also believe that this is an issue and believe that everyone is deserving of care,” Pennsylvania Rep. Sara Innamorato, of Morningside, said.
But will Harrisburg act in time?
“This is a private sector business matter and some of those things can’t be changed overnight,” Pennsylvania Rep. Valerie Gaydos, of Moon Township, said.
“I believe the court systems are going to say again, it should be the patient,” Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Brooks, of Murrysville, said.
Governor Tom Wolf seemed pessimistic about the matter.
“We have tried to work with both Highmark and UPMC to do this. Again, we’re not just addressing this in Pittsburgh. This is an issue, as health care providers consolidate and payers consolidate, this is going to be something that arises all across Pennsylvania, all around the country,” Wolf said.
While some lawmakers seem sympathetic, there’s no sign yet of action from Harrisburg.
In the end, the decision as to whether the legislature acts on this matter depends on two Republicans, Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, from Lancaster County, and the Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai, from Allegheny County.
It’s hard to believe the general assembly will act before the June 30 deadline, so in the end, protection for Highmark customers may depend on the state Supreme Court.