UPMC Physicians, Nurses Bring Concerns to Harrisburg

By Martin Kinnunen

As her bus crossed the Susquehanna River, Malissa Guzik made one last review of her notes and braced for a hectic day in the state Capitol.

I’m very concerned,” said the unit director at UPMC McKeesport. “We provide excellent care and help our community in so many ways. But a major reduction in our admissions could undo the good we do.”

To address that issue and others, Guzik and about 40 other UPMC employees from across the health system traveled to Harrisburg on Tuesday to take part in UPMC Health Care Professionals’ Advocacy Day.

Wearing scrubs and lab coats, the UPMC nurses and physicians engaged in a series of meetings with state lawmakers. Many encouraged their elected officials to support competition in health care and health insurance and to oppose government intervention that would force UPMC to renew its commercial services contract with Highmark beyond the end date of Dec. 31, 2014.

In a filing to the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, Highmark has projected it must divert 41,000 admissions into its new hospital system, the Allegheny Health Network, to ensure its success. Highmark plans to divert these patients primarily from UPMC hospitals by forcing or steering Highmark members to get their care at a Highmark facility. These actions could result in the elimination of 11,000 UPMC jobs.

Leslie Spagnol, clinical education specialist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, told an official in the office of state Sen. Matt Smith that those job losses would occur among the support personnel who provide training and education services to physicians and nurses. She added that community-based services would be impacted. For example, staff to run methadone clinics, which are needed to address rising rates of opiate addiction, might be cut.

Margaret Hayden, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, part of Sen. Smith’s district, noted her neighbors ask questions about what will happen to their  health care coverage after Dec. 31. Some concerns have been quelled. Senior neighbors now understand that their Medicare coverage will not be affected by the changing relationship between Highmark and UPMC, said Hayden, administrative director, Nurse Education, Practice and Research, UPMC Passavant.

But confusion remains among her working neighbors who pay for commercial health insurance. Therefore, Hayden supports launching a clear transition plan that would inform them about commercial health care coverage options after Dec. 31.

During lunch, the UPMC contingent heard from state Sen. Don White, chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee. Sen. White has called on Highmark to develop a transition plan.

Guzik, who participated in her first Advocacy Day, was inspired by his message. “He told us, ‘We need to be out there and to stick up for what we believe in,’” she said.

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