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Officials, lawmakers to discuss future of community hospitals

Officials from Highmark and UPMC will appear on Aug. 1 at a hearing in Westmoreland County to examine the future of community hospitals.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, will host a hearing by the Senate Majority Policy Committee at Westmoreland County Community College at 11 a.m. in Commissioners Hall.

Among the officials testifying will be Deborah Rice, Highmark executive vice president, and Daniel J. Lebish, the company's executive vice president of provider services.

Appearing for UPMC will be Dr. Marshall Webster, president of the physician services division and University of Pittsburgh Physicians, and attorney Thomas McGough Jr., the system's chief legal officer.

Also in attendance will be Robert Rogalski, Excela Health CEO; James Breisinger, chairman of Excela's board; and A.J. Harper of the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania.

The committee is chaired by Sen. Ted Erickson, a Republican representing Delaware and Chester counties.

The senators are gathering information about the potential impact of the competition between UPMC and Highmark on smaller community systems such as Excela Health and Uniontown and Highland hospitals in Fayette County, all facing competition from the region's two largest health care providers.

Ward said lawmakers are concerned about the community hospitals because they can't compete financially with larger health care systems.

“It's like they're a big bully,” Ward said, referring to Highmark and UPMC. “They have all the money. They're buying land using shell companies. Why can't they just say who they are? They're taking control of the whole world in Western Pennsylvania.

“We want them on the record about what they're doing,” she added. “At the end of the day, they're going around and buying up physician practices and land all with the goal of controlling the health care market.”

Highmark has spent $32 million during the past eight months acquiring properties from Butler to Washington County. It has purchased numerous physician practices and courted physicians affiliated with Excela.

Highmark, which is acquiring the West Penn-Allegheny Health System, has been locked in a turf battle with UPMC over physicians, patients and locations as they expand their reach beyond Allegheny County. Both systems have opened hospitals in Monroeville, challenging Excela's market share in the western end of Westmoreland County. Excela has countered by buying a shopping center in North Huntingdon and expanding a medical mall it operates there.

Investment ratings giant Moody's reports that Excela has a 60 percent share of the market but faces increased competition from Highmark and UPMC, in addition to other revenue challenges.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at [email protected].


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