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Beaver County lawmaker, Highmark defend golf outing in Fox Chapel

JimChristiana
Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County

HARRISBURG — A state lawmaker from Beaver County who sponsored legislation favored by Highmark in its long-running dispute with UPMC played golf on Wednesday at Highmark’s expense in the pro-am for the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.

The golf packages, including foursomes, cost $20,000 or $25,000, depending on the features.

Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican, had sponsored a bill to require hospitals to accept all insurers, which UPMC opposed. Christiana was among lawmakers on Friday who praised a deal the health care giants announced to keep many services at in-network rates for Highmark members when their contract expires this year.

“Let me be explicitly clear,” Christiana said. “It is way off-base to say that my participation in this charity event had anything to do with my bill. Whether Highmark supported it or opposed it was irrelevant to me from the start. I thought it was the right thing to do at the right time.”

He said he and the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, were briefed last week about the UPMC-Highmark deal “ending the battle and the need for our legislation.”

Any suggestion that Highmark invited Christiana to the golf outing because he sponsored pro-Highmark legislation “would be ridiculous,” said Aaron Billger, a Highmark spokesman.

“We routinely invite local elected officials and clients to community events,” Billger said.

Christiana and Westmoreland County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said they consider Highmark Vice President Tom Fitzpatrick a personal friend. They played in a foursome with him and David Ciacchini of Erie.

“As many times as I have interacted with Mr. Fitzpatrick, it’s never been in a lobbyist/legislator context,” Christiana said.

Courtney believes Highmark’s cost for the golf outing would be “fairly minimal” because the company is a Professional Golfers Association tour sponsor. Highmark and UPMC are vendors for Westmoreland County government, he said.

Highmark’s “broad sponsorship in the PGA” means the cost for each of the foursome members isn’t necessarily $5,000 to $6,250, Billger said. “I don’t know the fair market value” per person. He could not provide the overall amount Highmark contributes.

For its sponsorship, Highmark got an expo booth and a “kids’ clinic,” Billger said.

With a 7:40 a.m. tee time, Christiana said he made it to Harrisburg in time for scheduled House votes, including the state budget at 5:52 p.m. He delivered remarks on the budget and was listed as present on a roll call.

The PGA advertises the charitable golf event as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” to play with pro golfers. Pro Bill Glasson played in the Highmark group.

When Highmark knows the value of the golf round per participant, the company will tell Christiana the amount, Billger said.

Christiana said he will determine whether to list it on his financial disclosure statement as a gift. State officials can accept tangible gifts up to $250 in a calendar year and up to $650 in lodging and hospitality without reporting them to the state Ethics Commission.

Legislators can legally accept gifts from “anybody they want, anytime they want, for anything they want,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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